Musing About the Burden of Proof

I see that Barry Arrington is blogging up a storm lately over at Uncommon Descent. It's all his usual silliness--bad arguments coupled with denunciations of anyone who dares disagree with him--but this post was eyebrow-raising even for him.

The set-up is this: Arrington is in the habit of making big bold claims about what is possible and what is not. Sometimes his readers challenge him to back up those claims. These challenges are met with insults and condemnations.

In the present instance the claim is that the brain cannot be a fully naturalistic organ because mere chemicals cannot be the cause of abstract images. He writes:

[T]he physical chemicals in the brain are incapable of producing the mental images in the mind. There is a vast, unbridgeable ontological gulf between physical things and mental things. Therefore, we can rule out, in principle and a priori “chemicals” as a cause of “thoughts.”

Skeptical readers might want some justification for that “vast, unbridgeable, ontological gulf” remark. Arrington's post is actually a response to a commenter named Popperian who asked for just such a justification. Arrington is happy to oblige:

If I say we can rule out a priori “pile of bricks” as a possible cause of “imaginary unicorn” because it is logically impossible for a pile of bricks to cause an imaginary unicorn, it is absurd to stamp your foot and say “You've committed the error of inductivism, because it's poss-i-bool; it's poss-i-bool!”

Bare, unsupported claims of possibility will not defeat my a priori claim. You are the one asserting possibility, so it is your burden to demonstrate possibility by outlining a plausible mechanism for how a pile of bricks could cause an imaginary unicorn. And if you can't even begin to do so, my claim is unrefuted.

The same goes with my claim that we can exclude “chemicals” on an a priori basis as being a cause of “mental images.” Again, the bare assertion “it's poss-i-bool; it's poss-i-bool” gets you nowhere. If you say it's possible, then show us; until then my claim stands unrefuted.

So that's how it works! One person makes a bold, unsupported claim that something is impossible, and suddenly everyone else is burdened with the responsibility of proving him wrong. That's how crackpots think. Scientists and philosophers take a different approach. In our world you first have to prove that your assertions are worth taking seriously before you can demand that other people refute you.

We could offer a few challenges to Arrington's assertions. Phrases like “a priori” and “logically impossible” do not mean what he thinks they mean. We certainly do not know a priori that piles of bricks do not form images of imaginary unicorns, and it is not logically impossible that they do. It is instead an empirical fact that they do not, one we feel confident about precisely because we thoroughly understand their physical and chemical structure.

I do not know how the chemical reactions and electrical firings inside my head lead to mental images, but there is copious evidence that they do and zero evidence that anything non-physical is involved. As one of Arrington's commenters pointed out, ingest the right chemicals and imaginary unicorns will be the least of the wonders you behold. Meanwhile, Arrington and his fellow travelers can't even begin to explain how any non-physical mindstuff interacts with the brain to produce mental images.

The situation, then, is this: Everything we understand about the brain has come from diligent, hard-working scientists doing good ol' materialist science. There is ample evidence that the brain is purely physical and no evidence (frequent discredited creationist ramblings notwithstanding) for anything else. Then here comes Arrington to say, “It is logically impossible for chemicals to produce mental images. I have declared it so!” And to anyone who has the temerity to ask why he would assert such a thing he replies, “You're an idiot! It is for you to explain why I am wrong.” Charming.

I have dwelled on this because Arrington is the leader of the premiere ID blog, and his argument here is representative of ID generally. Real scientists point to the copious physical evidence for evolution, and to the consistent successes obtained by applying evolutionary thinking to their research problems. ID folks fight them tooth and nail on it. They say “How do you know random mutation and natural selection can produce significant evolutionary change? Give us a mutation by mutation account of what happened and then we'll believe you.” Scientists mostly say no thank you and return to their work. They suggest the ID folks come back when they have something helpful to say.

But when they are preaching to their choirs, when they are strutting around lying about their accomplishments, their standard of proof declines precipitously. Here they will make the boldest and most audacious claims about what is possible and what is not, with almost nothing in the way of argument to back it up. That is why conversations between ID proponents and scientists often fall into the same rut:

ID PROPONENT: It is impossible for irreducibly complex systems to evolve gradually.

SCIENTIST: Not true. Here are several ways they can evolve.

ID PROPONENT: You're just speculating. We win!

Or this:

ID PROPONENT: The genome contains complex specified information. That cannot be the result of evolution.

SCIENTIST: How do you know it contains complex specified information in the idiosyncratic, incoherent sense you have defined?

ID PROPONENT: It's obvious! Evolution is refuted!

Or maybe this:

ID PROPONENT: The second law of thermodynamics and the no free lunch theorems refute evolution.

SCIENTIST: Actually, you are not applying those results properly. Here's why...

ID PROPONENT: Stop ducking the question. Intelligent design is the only possible explanation!

Arrington is the perfect ID front man. He is so upfront about his craziness and mendacity that he ably strips away ID's pretensions of being anything intellectually serious.

More like this

Over at the Discovery Institute's blog, Winston Ewert has a post up explaining, one more time, what specified complexity is. Since I am given a mention near the end, perhaps it's worth a look. For those not steeped in ID rhetoric, “specified complexity” is a term coined by William Dembski. It is…
People don't realize how insane the literal interpretation of the Bible can get. There is no room for ambiguity or error in the book of Genesis, so when God tells Noah to put at least a pair of every living thing on the big boat, he didn't offer any exceptions — therefore, every living thing had a…
The anti-evolutionists just never get tired of the second law thermodynamics! The latest bit of silliness comes from Barry Arrington, writing at Uncommon Descent. Here's the whole post: I hope our materialist friends will help us with this one. As I understand their argument, entropy is not an…
I occasionally check in with the pro-ID blog Uncommon Descent, on the off chance they may have said something interesting. Sadly, the blog has mostly fallen on hard times. Nowadays it's mostly just post after post whose only point is to demean and insult people, or to proffer absurd…

Even simpler:

30 milligrams of n-n-dimethyltryptamine (DMT)* says he's wrong.

----

*DMT: a short-acting psychedelic drug that is famous for producing abstract geometric imagery that is richly-detailed and brightly-colored.

Arrington seens to be raising the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness. This is indeed a difficult subject. All the more reason not to expect anything sensible about it from a clown like Arrington, who can hardly say anything sensible even about much easier subjects.

I appreciate the common intuition that conscious experience seems like such a special sort of thing that it can't arise from any sort of material process. Even an eminent philosopher like David Chalmers is led by this intuition to accept a form of dualism. But philosophers have often been misled by their intuitions. The nature of consciousness is a very tricky conceptual question, and not one where we should rely on our instinctive intuitions.

By Richard Wein (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

I was just over there looking at Barry's comment. It's pretty standard stuff from him.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

Arrington seens to be raising the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness.

It's not clear to me if he's talking about subjective experience (consciousness, which is the "hard problem), or just semantics (how physical systems can contain meaning). Either way, those are indeed very difficult philosophical questions, and suggest a deep gap in our understanding of how the physical world works.

But the problem for Arrington is that invoking a god doesn't solve these problems. I am amused that he has the temerity to write:

it is your burden to demonstrate possibility by outlining a plausible mechanism for how a pile of bricks could cause an imaginary unicorn. And if you can’t even begin to do so, my claim is unrefuted.

...when the best solution that he can offer for how neurons do this, the most "plausible mechanism", is "goddidit".

So, if I were to make teh bold and unsupported statement

"Supernatural entities that transend the observable universe are incapable of producing the natural entities existing in that universe. There is a vast, unbridgeable ontological gulf between supernatural things and natural things. Therefore, we can rule out, in principle and a priori, “gods” as a cause of anything we know to exist."

it would be Arrignton's responsibility to prove me wrong, not my responsibility to support my claim?

I am not even sure 'an imaginary unicorn' image in the mind could be considered imaginary in the sense of immaterial. We could probably hook people up to PET devices, ask them to think about unicorns and other various things, isolate the pattern (or patterns; there are probably many variations) associated with unicorn-image-thinking, and say "see that pattern of electron and blood flow? That's your unicorn-thought." Its very material.

As Tulse says in reference to Richard, this does not necessarily provide an adequate solution to the 'hard problem of consciousness' because it doesn't address why that pattern is translated as an image of a unicorn. But it is positive empirical support for the natural/materialist hypothesis, whereas the dualist hypothesis has no positive empirical support for the notion of an immaterial mechanism. Only the soul-of-the-gaps argument.

The feeling of meaning is an emotional state, and emotions are the subjective sensations of the actions of neurochemicals on neurons. When a given combination of chemicals hits a threshold of awareness, you have a feeling.

The error is widespread, of thinking of neurons as binary switches only, and the brain as a computer. (This follows from history: first we analogized with steam engines, then telegraphs, then telephone switching systems, and now computers. Each of those is a blind person's impression of an elephant.) What that misses, at minimum, is the chemistry of emotion, which is highly determinative of cognition.

But let's go one step further. Consider all the physically possible methods of collecting, processing, storing, synthesizing, and propagating information. I'll pull a number out of my derriere for the sake of illustration, and say there are 12 of these. That's the possible repertoire that could be used by organisms: now the research question is, how many of those are _actually_ used by brains?

So far we know of two: electrical (the signals that are picked up by the EEG) and chemical (the neurochemistry of emotion). There's a likely third one, QM computation carried out at the level of proteins in the cytoskeletons of neurons (Hameroff & Penrose), and that could also provide the route to a physical mechanism for free will. Assuming that Hameroff's & Penrose's theory is supported by empirical findings (work is in progress and so far appears positive), now we have three possible mechanisms at work in brains.

But chances are there are more, that we haven't even started to look at.

Wild speculation department: Geometry.

Consider prions: Proteins having the same chemical formulae as harmless proteins that are found in brains, but having unusual folding compared to their normal counterparts. Prions are the apparent mechanism for certain types of dementias, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, "mad cow disease") and Kreutzfeld-Jacob (I'm not going to check the spelling, you know what I'm talking about).

What makes a prion a prion, is its geometry. And that geometry is conveyed from prions to normal proteins in the brain, converting the latter into more prions, until widespread damage occurs and the brain ends up looking like a Swiss cheese. Along the way, the victim suffers a nasty cognitive decline and finally a nasty painful lingering death.

Chances are there are other examples whereby the geometry of protein folding has some kind of functional role in brains. More wild speculation: it may turn out to have something to do with persistent emotional and cognitive traits. It may have something to do with certain psychiatric illnesses notably schizophrenia. It may have something to do with traits such as empathy or the lack thereof, such as the tendency to believe or disbelieve in the existence of deities, etc. I suspect there is much fruitful research to be done along these lines of inquiry. If the results are positive, we'll have four mechanisms of computation in brains. How many more remain to be found?

That said, there are two items that to my mind support the possibility of some kind of substance dualism. Not to the degree of immortal souls that are the intact personalities of individuals, but to the degree of "something" persisting after the brain shuts down. About which more in my next comment.

Two things:

One, individuals can voluntarily perform mental acts that alter the measurable output of the brain. Meditation and biofeedback training enable their practitioners to willfully "do something" that alters the functioning of their brain as measured on the EEG. From where comes that intention and action? From some subset of the system, perhaps. Or from something outside the system that acts on it? Admittedly this is the weak case, but none the less an interesting question.

Two, the stronger case: near-death experiences (NDEs) that entail fully lucid consciousness (awareness of self, one's condition, and of one's place and time context) under conditions where we can reasonably expect there to be complete lack of consciousness.

NDEs occur in cardiac arrests and trauma cases outside the hospital. Following cardiac arrest, consciousness shuts down in about 15 seconds from lack of blood flow to the brain. Notice that these patients are not under the influence of any sort of drugs at the time.

NDEs occur in surgical patients who are under the influence of up to three classes of drugs at once: a sedative, a narcotic analgesic, and a general anaesthetic. Each drug in and of itself is sufficient to shut down consciousness.

So one can't claim that the NDE is a drug artifact, since it also occurs without any such drugs. And yet it also occurs _with_ those drugs present in the brain, to an extent that "paradoxical drug reaction" isn't sufficient either because you'd need a paradoxical reaction to three drugs at once, each of which utilizes a different route of action.

Hallucinations don't get you out of body experiences with objective correlates, and endogenous DMT isn't a viable mechanism for those either.

To my mind all of that adds up to a legitimate puzzle, and a reasonable case for some sort of dualistic aspect to the mind. The question is, can we deal with this topic objectively, rather than based on some kind of emotional reaction to the possibility that the proponents of conventional religion might have a good cackle at our expense?

I just typed "NDE experiments" into Google and got this as my first hit:

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/aware-results-finally-publ…

I did so because I remember hearing some years ago that the experiment was in progress, but hadn't heard the result - which it turns out was just as I and many other expected. The brain is fallible and is quite susceptible to fooling itself, as Feynman said.

As for Mr. Arrlington, it seems to me that at long last he has no sense of rationality left, and is not worth trying to reason with. Surely there must be some creationists somewhere whose arguments are more worth examining?

Surely there must be some creationists somewhere whose arguments are more worth examining?

Depends on how you define "creationist" - if you are talking YEC or ID, then I don't think there are.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

JimV @ 9:

Most interesting!, I have that page open and I'm going to give it a read after I get back from work tonight, and I'll reply further at that point.

To be clear, the title "No evidence of NDE" isn't quite right: There's plenty of evidence in the literature to date, that NDEs do occur and that these experiences are highly convergent. What's at issue is whether NDEs are (hypothesis 1) the last thing that happens before "nothingness," or (hypothesis 2) the first thing that happens on the way to "somewhere/something else." I assume from your comment that the study supported the first hypothesis rather than the second.

Whatever the outcome, the facts are what they are, and no amount of wishing will get us a hereafter if the fact is nothingness (or vice versa;-).

What's most important is to know which is which, so humans have the opportunity to live their lives in accord with the facts, rather than believing something that isn't so.

More later, gotta scoot for now.

To Richard Wein #2:

“The nature of consciousness is a very tricky conceptual question, and not one where we should rely on our instinctive intuitions.”

So, you think we should rely on something else.
What something else? More importantly, how would relying on or evaluating that something else be more valid when such reliance/evaluation is ALSO from our consciousness?

To put it in more evolution-y terms, on what SCIENTIFIC BASIS should we trust the validity or RATIONALITY of our perceptions, thoughts and conclusions when they come from an organ which is the result of a NON-rational process?

By See Noevo (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

Evolution likely does a pretty good job of ensuring that perception and cognition match up with reality -- critters that don't perceive the world veridically, or that are unable to reason about it correctly, generally don't live very long.

By Tulse (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

In reply to by See Noevo (not verified)

G:

From where comes that intention and action? From some subset of the system, perhaps. Or from something outside the system that acts on it? Admittedly this is the weak case, but none the less an interesting question.

Very weak. Kind of like asking if computer needs a second computer in order to turn off its own screen.

To my mind all of that adds up to a legitimate puzzle, and a reasonable case for some sort of dualistic aspect to the mind. The question is, can we deal with this topic objectively

Sure. Here is how we deal with it objectively: you dualists come up with a testable hypothesis, and an experiment that can test between it and the no-soul hypothesis. Do the experiment. Report the results. If they support the soul hypotheses, other labs will seek to replicate them and publish. After we've got a bunch of credible, replicable published results, science will take the dualist hypothesis credible and probably loads more labs and funding will flow into the investigation. But the credibility for the hypothesis and the loads of funding/support come after some initial credible, reproducible findings. Not before. That's how science works with new hypotheses; their proponents have to do some initial establishment work before the larger community sits up and takes notice.

What’s at issue is whether NDEs are (hypothesis 1) the last thing that happens before “nothingness,” or (hypothesis 2) the first thing that happens on the way to “somewhere/something else.”

Sounds like exactly the sort of factor you need to design into your hypothesis-comparison experiment. You must be able to show an experience was 2, not 1, otherwise the hypotheses are indistinguishable.
Of course there's two easy ways to do that, but NDE claimants have failed both. One is to have them bring back information they could not have known (reminder: must be reproducible even by labs full of skeptics who instill tight controls). The second is to provide independent evidence that a 'somewhere else' exists. Got a video of Valhalla we could look at?

on what SCIENTIFIC BASIS should we trust the validity or RATIONALITY of our perceptions, thoughts and conclusions when they come from an organ which is the result of a NON-rational process?

We shouldn't trust. That's why we build detectors, run multiple experiments, share papers around to check for each others' mistakes, and so on. Have N people do the same thing and seeing if their results converge lessens the chance that the result is due to personal bias or a foible of someone's perceptual equipment.

You know what trusting imperfect human senses looks like? It looks like revelation. Argument from authority. And its absolutely terrible at coming up with accurate predictive models of the world.

To eric #16:

Me: “To put it in more evolution-y terms, on what SCIENTIFIC BASIS should we trust the validity or RATIONALITY of our perceptions, thoughts and conclusions when they come from an organ which is the result of a NON-rational process?”

You: “We shouldn’t trust. That’s why we build detectors, run multiple experiments, share papers around to check for each others’ mistakes, and so on. Have N people do the same thing and seeing if their results converge lessens the chance that the result is due to personal bias or a foible of someone’s perceptual equipment.”

No, not at all.
All that stuff – the trusting or not trusting, the building of detectors, running multiple experiments, sharing papers, checking “mistakes”, etc. – are all things you PERCEIVE with your mind.
But your mind is a product of a NON-RATIONAL PROCESS (i.e. evolution).
There IS NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS for proving the validity of what your mind is telling you.

“You know what trusting imperfect human senses looks like? It looks like revelation.”

I’ll leave it at that.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

the trusting or not trusting, the building of detectors, running multiple experiments, sharing papers, checking “mistakes”, etc. – are all things you PERCEIVE with your mind.

Well I'm not a solipsist and I'm fine with a non-scientific belief that I don't live in the matrix, so I don't think of other people's agreements and disagreements with me are figments of my imagination or the trick of some mad programmer. Other people's convergence and nonconvergence of opinion with mine I accept as real.

Now yes, many scientists agreeing can still be wrong: we can all be fooled together. That's called a systemic bias. And there are ways of dealing with that too. The Solar Neutrino Problem (google it) provides a good example of how scientists deal with systemic problems; build systems with completely independent operating principles. We don't have a perfect solution for it, so its always a problem.
But in contrast, religion has *no* way of dealing with theological differences of opinion (well, omitting sectarianism and war.) No method for detecting or resolving systemic bias. So our system is still superior.

There IS NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS for proving the validity of what your mind is telling you.

Yes yes, induction can't justify induction. We know. We probably understand Hume better than you do. Here's Hume's (and later, Pierce's) response: *you* don't act like induction is unjustified, so why should I? I will take seriously your claim that induction is ultimately unreliable when you stop using your senses to drive your car.

However maybe a more modern response is needed. Here is mine: when Hume died in 1776, he had no conception of iterative algorithms. Gauss didn't come up with his prototype until a generation later and we only started really investigating them in the mid 1900s. But at this point we understand that certain types of mathematical algorithms + crappy data can produce accurate outputs. And as far as I know, even you fundies accept that deductive reasoning (of which math is one type) is reliable. So iterative algorithms provide a reliable method of turning crappy perceptions into accurate knowledge. They are a deductively-based bootstrapping method. Got any thoughts on that?

To eric #18:

“Other people’s convergence and nonconvergence of opinion with mine I accept as real.”

That's good.
Do you also accept abiogenesis, specifically, the origin of life from non-living things?

Do you also accept what I’ll call “a-rational rationality”, specifically, that your rationality results from an organ resulting from a non-rational process?

“Now yes, many scientists agreeing can still be wrong: we can all be fooled together… We don’t have a perfect solution for it, so its always a problem. But in contrast, religion has *no* way of dealing with theological differences of opinion (well, omitting sectarianism and war.) No method for detecting or resolving systemic bias. So our system is still superior.”

Well, first of all, the fallible field of science deals primarily with what is “seen”,
while the THE infallible religion deals primarily with what is “unseen”. [And please, no quibbling about “infallibility”. You believe it’s possible and so does everybody else.]

So, science and religion are not directly comparable, and one is not superior to the other (like apples and oranges).

But secondly, religion has *no* way of dealing with theological differences of opinion?

Obviously untrue.
There’s a way, alright. Actually, a perfect way.
But most “religious” people (and irreligious people) just don’t want to do what’s good for them. They dismiss the way.

“But at this point we understand that certain types of mathematical algorithms + crappy data can produce accurate outputs…. So iterative algorithms provide a reliable method of turning crappy perceptions into accurate knowledge. They are a deductively-based bootstrapping method. Got any thoughts on that?”

I don’t think much about that.

But what would be your one favorite example of it?

By See Noevo (not verified) on 20 Aug 2015 #permalink

Looks like "I'll take argument from personal incredulity for five".

G,

I really don't see where you get the dualism from. If we subtract everything that we positively know can be destroyed by physical or chemical damage, nothing is left of the mind.

What is more, it is unclear to me how introducing quantum would give you free will. Assuming you mean dualist / libertarian free will, it is incoherent anyway. There are two options: either stuff behaves in a predictable, cause-and-effect, laws of physics fashion, or it behaves randomly. The former gives you will but no freedom; the latter - which you presumably hope to get from quantum - gives you freedom from determinism but no will.

Surely when people say free will they do not mean that there is a dice in their heads that can randomly make them go fishing with their best friend today, then punch him without provocation tomorrow, and then wear their trousers on the head the following day. What they mean is predictable behaviour but according to one's own preferences, without coercion. And that's compatibilist free will, the version that is compatible with determinism, materialism and monism.

SN,

So then, what is the "way"? How are theological disagreements resolved, barring war or other coercion? I smell a "No True Scotsman" coming here, especially if you're going to respond that such disagreements are resolvable by looking at the Scripture. Many people look at the same Bible you do and come to widely different theological conclusions.

To Sean T #21:

“How are theological disagreements resolved, barring war or other coercion? I smell a “No True Scotsman” coming here, especially if you’re going to respond that such disagreements are resolvable by looking at the Scripture.”

I would never respond that way.

“Many people look at the same Bible you do and come to widely different theological conclusions.”

I agree 100%.

“So then, what is the “way”?”

Well, you're an adult, and have had a lifetime to think about this, but
I’ll give you one more guess.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 21 Aug 2015 #permalink

“Many people look at the same Bible you do and come to widely different theological conclusions.”

I agree 100%.

Except when you don't agree with the Bible.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 21 Aug 2015 #permalink

Well SN,

I'm not quite sure what you have in mind, then. I would guess based on your posting history that you would say that logic should be used to resolve questions in theology. That's all well and good, but it is not a satisfactory answer. Logic can only get you so far. Logic cannot give us truth a priori, but must rather work from a certain set of statements that are just assumed to be true. These may or may not be statements that are consciously assumed to be true, but they are the basis for all logical arguments.

In your case, I believe that one of your underlying assumptions is that any complex system cannot form on its own via natural forces and that it therefore must have a designer. From that assumption, it's trivial to deny that biological organisms could arise in any way other than being created by a creator. The argument is valid, but it is not necessarily sound. The assumption that complex systems cannot form naturally is one that is being questioned by the scientific theory of evolution. It is mere question begging to make the assumption you do.

The point here is that logic alone cannot be used to decide the answer to disputed theological questions. Who gets to decide which assumptions we will start with? The most fundamental assumption when dealing with theological questions is "God exists." Obviously, not everyone can even agree on that assumption, since there are many atheists out there (including me). We cannot use logic alone to answer these questions unless everyone can agree on a single set of assumptions to start with. Obviously, there has never been a time in the history of the world where this was the case.

The other option is that we should rely on some authority figure to decide theological questions. This too has its obvious problems. Using Jesus as the authority figure obviously doesn't work; all of the many flavors of Christianity think that they are basing their beliefs on the teachings of Jesus, yet all disagree on theological questions. How do we know which group of Christians has it right? Pushing back further, how do we know that any group of Christians has it right? How does an atheist such as myself know that it isn't the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Muslims, or none of the above who have it right? There is no single recognized authority on the matter of theology, there is no accepted set of premises on which to apply logic. Is there something I'm missing? How can we objectively evaluate theological claims?

"Arrington is the perfect ID front man."
For a while I thought you were talking about an IDiot that invariably pops up at your own blog when the subject is evolution - one who never provides evidence for his non-theory either. On this very page is prominently present again.
Like all forms of creationism ID consists of

1. God of the gaps (you can't explain consciousness, hence god);
2. Paley's false Watchmaker Analogy;
3. The non-sequitur Evolution Theory is wrong hence god.

The amazing thing is how many words they can spend to formulate these three points.

To Sean T #24:

“I would guess based on your posting history that you would say that logic should be used to resolve questions in theology. That’s all well and good, but it is not a satisfactory answer. Logic can only get you so far.”

I agree.
Logic is great, logic is necessary. But I think logic alone is probably not sufficient. Logic ultimately points beyond itself.

“The point here is that logic alone cannot be used to decide the answer to disputed theological questions.”

I think I agree.

“The most fundamental assumption when dealing with theological questions is “God exists.” Obviously, not everyone can even agree on that assumption, since there are many atheists out there (including me).”

That’s certainly a problem. If you refuse to believe God exists, or MIGHT exist, there’s no point discussing this matter with you any further.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 21 Aug 2015 #permalink

G
"That said, there are two items that to my mind support the possibility of some kind of substance dualism."

In Matrix/DNA Theory we first meet dualism when calculating how this astronomic system produced the first biological cell system. Before that we found that the building block of astronomical systems has emigrated for to be the building blocks of RNA/DNA. But, how it happened? Entropy attacking an astronomic system produces radiation of fragments of its information in shape of photons. Those photons has the tendency to re-compose the system, so they penetrate atoms leading them to the right combinations. So, at every biological system has that photonic circuit working as system, which we can not percept yet because it is like " light" hidden into matter.

The process by which this astronomical system produced biological systems is pure genetics, in a electromagnetic fashion. What matters is that any natural system is composed by hardware plus software. Evolution advances even when any natural order of systems arrives to a last limit of complexity, and the hardware counterpart disappears, the software can build a new hardware somewhere and vice-versa: they evolves by feedback.

So we arrives to the human brain as a system. It is probable ( but not proved), that when a brain dies, the software ( now called mind or counciousness) emigrates also, not entirely as a hypothetical soul but fragmented into its bits. ( if you want see more google " The Universal formula Matrix/DNA for all natural ststems and Life's Cycles" .Cheers...

By Louis C. Morelli (not verified) on 21 Aug 2015 #permalink

"The situation, then, is this: Everything we understand about the brain has come from diligent, hard-working scientists doing good ol’ materialist science. There is ample evidence that the brain is purely physical and no evidence (frequent discredited creationist ramblings notwithstanding) for anything else."

Of course! Human sciences was raped by an ideology based on a believed theoretical model of the world, and every evidence against is quickly discarded out, like the Church did while the owner of all universities.

For instance, what are doing and how is Science investigating the claims of the scientist-neurologist that wrote "A Stroke Insight"?

I watched and was testimony of Amazon jungle native shamans revealing mental images after drinking their hallucinogenic beverages. I was drawing those fragments of images and when connecting them in a whole picture I had the image of DNA at hands. Others images were the same picture as the diagrams of particles suggested by heavy books of Physics. Then I discovered that the big picture revealed by the shamans, beyond being the DNA, is the same picture described by orientals 3.000 years ago, which they called " aura with chakras", etc.

But the surprises does not stop here. There are lots of them. For instance you discovers that the images described by those ancient and natives performs an astonishing perfect working system. Analysing the parts of that system you discover that all symbols used in the Bible when describing the Eden Paradise, are there, inside the system.

Why I and all these people trying to investigate this issue never got attention and collaboration from the " nowadays owners of public sciences", if it is an issue related to scientific search? Copernicus, Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and even Darwin would be able to answer that.

By Louis C. Morelli (not verified) on 21 Aug 2015 #permalink

See Noevo:

" To put it in more evolution-y terms, on what SCIENTIFIC BASIS should we trust the validity or RATIONALITY of our perceptions, thoughts and conclusions when they come from an organ which is the result of a NON-rational process?"

Congratulations, you have others good insights, but.. on what scientific facts are you based for affirming that the brain is the result of a non-rational process?

The producer of the brain was the same Nature that produced human pure reasoning ( without human culture), so, why Nature would apply two different methods?!

We never could be sure about any watched natural process here while we does not know - in the hierarchy of natural systems - all system that are acting upon the process. For instance, what we are seeing as "evolution" can be merely steps of a bigger process of reproduction of a superior natural system.

For our mental health is good never forgetting the great Godel's advice: "Nobody can knows the truth of a system standing inside it. " . And I would add here also, the meaning of a system.

Let's appeal to an analogy. If I am an intelligent microbe living inside an embryonary sac, hundreds of my generations will watch evolution of a blastula into a fetus into an embryo, etc. We will believe in evolution, even that evolution there is about individual and not population. But, a human being living outside knows that it is not evolution, it is reproduction.

So, for someone to affirm that inside this Universe is occurring evolution is necessary that he/she goes outside this Universe to verify if the whole process is not merely a reproduction of the thing that generated this Universe.

Since that the intelligent microbe does not know anything aboit DNA, genetics, etc., it will believe in random mutations and blind evolution, or non-rational. We know that embryogenesis is rational, we can comprehende it. because we know the system that is hoerarchic superior and is being reproduced.

It is probable that human brains has non-rational characteristics, because it is not a human brain that generated this Universe. That's why it will be discarded, as was the chimpanzee's brain, etc. Natural selection, as the agent of the cosmological reproductive process, cleans out what does not fit inside the reproductive process. ( merely my two cents here)... Cheers...

By Louis C. Morelli (not verified) on 21 Aug 2015 #permalink

This puzzle about how neurons and the physical chemicals relates to thoughts, abstract images, etc., is being investigated by Matrix/DNA Theory in a very different and specific approach. We considers as elements acting upon these mental productions, things like: the String Theory, the electromagnetic radiative spectrum, the configuration and identity of a brain as a natural system, the waves of radiation as the code for systems, the parallel dimensions created by them, and even, our model of human magnetic field. The study of human brains productions involves lots of these more complex natural phenomena because the brain is the most known complex natural phenomena, so, we need the reductive scientific method for getting data about the parts of the system, but this method will not solve the puzzle, it is about the systemic method.

String Theory suggests at least 11 different dimensions entangled and acting upon our few three or four perceptual dimensions. So, the adjective " abstract" is a relativistic issue. It is abstract in relation to the substance of the dimensions that we know, but not abstract in relation to the substance of surrounding dimensions that we are not perceiving yet. What is the rational basis that we are using for appealing to non-perceptible dimensions? It is our specific theory of electromagnetic waves of radiation, which can be seeing at my website.

The brain as a system configured and organized by Matrix/DNA formula. It is suggesting that abstract images are not produced by neurons or chemicals alone, but by the brain as a system. There are only two regions from where could these images be produced: the cortex and the hippocampus ( because they are related to F1 and F4 in Matrix/DNA formula and only these two functions can produce other things that are not the trivial.

To Mr. Arrington analogy that "we can rule out a priori “pile of bricks” as a possible cause of “imaginary unicorn" we would answer:

" The DNA that had the information for building a human brain is a pile of building blocks, but different from a plie of a house's building blocks there is no two identical building block in the DNA. Each DNA's building block is a working system based on the unique building block that biological systems inherited from their creator, the surrounding astronomical system. But, since that the astronomical building block does not arrives at Earth enclosed in a membrane envelope like the human genome is transmitted, and so, it arrives fragmented into its bits-information working as genes, spreaded in space and time, which produces not a unique biological system, but a great diversity of derived systems. From these great diversity, natural selection, as the agent of the astronomical reproductive process, discards those that does not fit into the process. Later, when everything is repeated when a unique system called " brain" produces a great diversity of mental images, those that does not fit into the evolutionary process are qualified as " abstract images" and as so, they are promptly discarded. Like wold be discarded any image of unicorns. Sometimes abstract images are not abstract in relation to the order of phenomena that has as substance the substance of thoughts, then, they are absorbed there, but, this is another issue."

By Louis C. Morelli (not verified) on 21 Aug 2015 #permalink

See Noevo is relying on Plantinga's supposed refutation of naturalism - a random process ( evolution ) cannot produce an organism with a consciousness that can reliably and accurately describe the world. We do however, therefore evolution is false: QED. Needless to say who finds this persuasive.

Apparently Noevo is also a presuppositionalist who has suspended belief in modus tollens. If you don't agree to play by the rules, then there is no point in playing.

PedrBran,
I fear you’re making a Ped, er, as* of yourself.

What’s the harm with combining valid logic (e.g. modus tollens) with science (i.e. studying what we can OBSERVE and can TEST)?

By See Noevo (not verified) on 22 Aug 2015 #permalink

I'm always surprised when people try to rule out the brain-mind link on an a priori basis given that we don't have any view from the mind's eye as to what mental stuff is. Same goes for the nature of matter - how can we talk about weekday matter is and is not capable of without reference to observations?

The trick, it seems to me, is to take the conversation away from the evidence because the evidence as it stands shows that there is an established link between brain and mind. Alter the brain in a variety of ways and it alters the mental experience. That seems to me compelling evidence against the notion that the mental cannot be reconciled with the physical. There may be something else going on, and while that brings the problem of conservation of energy into focus (or the problem of epiphenomenalism - depending on the kind of dualism on offer, the point is that we simply cannot make declarations about what matter can't do.

To Kel #33:

“The trick, it seems to me, is to take the conversation away from the evidence because the evidence as it stands shows…”

Wait. You must be an evolutionist.

Am I right?

By See Noevo (not verified) on 23 Aug 2015 #permalink

There are basically three approaches for empirically confirming a hypothesis, such as the hypothesis that unicorns are made of legos. These are, in order of decreasing confirmatory power: 1) analysis (or deconstruction) in which we would disassemble some unicorns and check if the building blocks are legos. If so this would confirm that at least the unicorns we examined are made of legos but does not prove that all unicorns are. 2) synthesis (or constructive) which we would attempt to make something out of legos that has all the characteristics of unicorns. If we succeed we have shown that unicorns could possibly be made of legos. And 3) external analysis, i. e., the “black box” approach in which we modify the environment of the subject and check for any impact. If we remove all legos or lego building materials from the environment and find that no new unicorns are produced, and then reintroduce those materials and find that new unicorns appear, we have established that legos are at least essential for unicorn production

In recent years neuroscientists have made great progress in advancing analytic and synthetic techniques, but the black box approach has been the preeminent approach for elucidating mental functions for over a hundred years. In this approach, the neuroscientist removes a small segment from the brain of a healthy living human subject and notes the impact. Well, okay, neuroscientists can’t ethically excise brain tissue from health subjects but fortunately God, in his infinite mercy, has plagued all mankind with a variety of afflictions - in response to the misdeeds of one pair of humans - which afflictions include thrombosis, blood clots, that often lodge in the brain destroying small sections of tissue, thus allowing scientists, after a post mortem examination, to associate specific brain regions with particular loss of function effects or mental aberrations. (Thank you Jesus!!) The conclusion to be drawn from the thousands of cases that have been examined (google on Warnicke’s area, Broca,s area and Phineas Gage for starters) is that all mental, emotional, and personality traits, and even moral attitudes can be associated with physical brain structures subject to damage by physical processes. This does not absolutely rule out some additional immaterial component to mental state but does render it inconsequential.

The failure and delusion in Arrington’s argument is his starting with an a priori statement. “A priori” is just philosospeak for its Latin synonym “ex post assholium”, or “I will begin by pulling some wild assumptions out of my butthole”. Biology is all about chemical/molecular abstractions. Look at the DNA sequence of a genome, as a series of letters, as an artists drawing, as a stick and ball figure, or as a microscope image of the actual molecule and try to determine what plant or animal or thing is entailed. What about an insulin molecule says “There’s sugar in the blood stream. Start making Kreb’s cycle enzymes”? When a little boy fruit fly gets family urges, he doesn’t start looking for a little girl fruit fly. He starts looking for a spacial gradient of a volatile aromatic molecule. I hope I’m never reincarnated into something that thinks that abstractly. Abstraction does not imply immaterialism.

By AnswersInGenitals (not verified) on 23 Aug 2015 #permalink

"Wait. You must be an evolutionist"
If by 'evolutionist' you mean someone who takes science seriously as a means to understand reality, then I am one. Science works, as our very mode of communication attests to. And in the domain of biology, evolution is the prevailing explanation for how life on this planet got to be the way it was.

I think beliefs ought to be shaped by the best evidence of the day - that is, we ought to think rationally about our beliefs and proportion them to the evidence. What about you?

So SN, then we have reached agreement that there is no objective way, in general, to resolve theological dispute. The first, and most primary, theological question has tripped us up right from the get go to the point where you are just going to give up on the whole enterprise. That's not resolving the dispute; that's just refusing to discuss the dispute in the first place.

It does seem to be the case that the way that religious orthodoxy is enforced has historically been through either the application of military force or via political power. That certainly has been the case in most civilizations dating back to the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations. Religious orthodoxy is whatever the ruler of the area says it is. Christianity is not really any different. Christians were persecuted until the Roman emperors decided to permit Christianity within the Empire. Christianity, though, did not become truly influential until the religion was adopted by the Emperor and made the official religion of the Empire. This political influence certainly carried over into Medieval Europe. It's no coincidence that the bishop of Rome became the leader of the Church in the Western Empire, and that the Byzantine Emperors became the leaders in the East.

Islam presents and example of the other way of enforcing orthodoxy; sheer military power. Lands conquered by the Arabs did not exactly have a choice; other religions were tolerated, but political and cultural power rested solely with Muslims. In like fashion, the theological dispute between Catholics and Protestants was settled in the main by military power, namely the Thirty Years' War, which resulted in the division of Europe into areas that were either predominantly Catholic or Protestant, with political power enforcing orthodoxy.

The point is that I can think of no examples of religious conflicts being settled in any way other than enforcement of orthodoxy via either political or military power. The fact that you're willing to give up discussing the matter with me since I am an atheist is indicative that I am right. I could envision you converting me to your side by forming and army, pointing a gun at my head and asking if I believe in God. If you do that, I'd probably answer yes out of self preservation. If you got laws passed that would result in my being thrown in prison unless I professed my belief in God, I would likewise probably comply. However, you still have not found a way to convince me without the threat of some type of force. In fairness, I likewise cannot do so either, but that was really my original point - no such way exists. Theological questions don't admit to objective evaluation.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 24 Aug 2015 #permalink

SN:

Do you also accept abiogenesis, specifically, the origin of life from non-living things?

I think it's the most empirically supported hypothesis. But if you have positive empirical support for some other hypothesis, lay it on me.

Do you also accept what I’ll call “a-rational rationality”, specifically, that your rationality results from an organ resulting from a non-rational process?

I see no problem with RM+NS producing systems that can deductively reason. While not having any specific references on it, I bet evolutionary algorithms produce OR, NOT, and AND circuits all the time.

the THE infallible religion deals primarily with what is “unseen”. [And please, no quibbling about “infallibility”. You believe it’s possible and so does everybody else.]

Well first, don't put words in my mouth. I'm not sure any syste is infallible. I already told you science is imperfect.

Secondly, possible infallibility in some system /= actual infallibility in religious reasoning. You would have to show Christianity is an example of that. Given there are many sects and that te dominant Christian belief has changed over time, I really don't see that happening. One aspect of "infallible" reasoning would be that everyone who uses it gets the same answer.

There’s a way, alright. Actually, a perfect way.
But most “religious” people (and irreligious people) just don’t want to do what’s good for them. They dismiss the way.

Thus, not infallible. Don't you see the ludicrousness of claiming that you have a perfect and infallible reasoning system but oh by the way, everyone who disagrees with you is just doing it wrong? If it was infallible, they wouldn't do it wrong.

And given that there are many different religous claimants saying everyone else is doing it wrong, how pray tell am I, a mere outsider, to determine which of these people is right and which is wrong?

There seems to me to be some confusion about what correlations between brain and mind establish that should be noted in my view. Kel writes that "the evidence as it stands shows that there is an established link between brain and mind. Alter the brain in a variety of ways and it alters the mental experience." And Rosenhouse writes that one may "ingest the right chemicals and imaginary unicorns will be the least of the [mental] wonders you behold." The idea is the existence of mind/brain links is clear evidence that dualism is mistaken. While I agree with the general aim of this post, I don't think this specific point is nearly as interesting as people believe. If people actually read the classic dualists themselves, it would be pretty clear that many of them already accept the existence of correlations. So how can pointing out these correlations serve as objections to their view?!? I don't accept spiritual forms of dualism myself, but I think we should at least be fair in our criticisms of the views we reject. Here as one example is what Descartes says in the Discourse:

"I showed....how changes must occur in the brain as causes of waking, sleep and dreams; how light, sounds, smells, tastes, heat and the other qualities of external objects can imprint various ideas on the brain through the mediation of the senses......And I explained which part of the brain must be identified with various supposed mental faculties—specifically, which part of the brain must be taken to be the ‘common sense’....."

This certainly can't be taken as a denial of correlations of some sort.

couchloc, I'm not saying that dualists deny the correlations, just as creationists don't deny that adaptation through natural selection occurs. Dualism isn't the point here, but whether there's any empirical grounds to exclude the mind-brain link. And the empirical evidence as it stands doesn't give us any grounds to exclude that link, indeed the evidence as it stands doesn't suggest that there's anything other than brain activity going on. The idea that we can assert what mind is and isn't without reference to observation is speculative nonsense.

Kel, the point I'm trying to make is that we cannot disprove dualism by pointing out the existence of correlations. If you agree with this I am fine with that. This seems relevant to me since I think some people around here think dualism can be refuted by pointing out correlations. As to your further point, I don't find it as helpful as you seem to think. To say that the empirical evidence we have of how matter works is incomplete is merely a way of making room for a possible explanation, not to actually give one. So I'm not sure the dualist has anything to worry about yet. The point can be argued I'm sure, but any such argument will go beyond a simple appeal to correlations.....

Kel, the point I’m trying to make is that we cannot disprove dualism by pointing out the existence of correlations.

In principle you can, though in practice we certainly aren't there yet. If a good enough model of brain activity is sufficient to produce accurate predictions of mental activity, then we could say all other potential causative factors are insignificant.

Now we don't have a 'good enough' model now, but the understanding of causative physical factors we do have, coupled with the complete absence of any credible, reproducible evidence of nonphysical factors, seems to me to put dualist models in a 'god of the gaps' position; they can only find a place for soul-action in our current ignorance. As an hypothesis, that's not a strong or good place to be.

Yes, you can't disprove dualism alone by referring to observations of the physical link between mind and brain. Just as you can't disprove creationism by observations of natural selection in action. No, it's not about disproof of dualism. Whether dualism can be disproved by observation depends entirely on what dualism is claiming. If there are no observations that could disprove dualism, then dualism is an empty notion (a theory that explains everything, explains nothing - Popper). If there are observations that could rule for and against, then it's on the dualists to substantiate their own theory. Again, my issue wasn't whether dualism could be disproved, because whether dualism can be or is disproved doesn't really affect on whether one can rule out the brain-mind link without reference to observation.

It's always strange when ideas are played off, as if the choice is one or the other. If we want to make advances in understanding, then it's going to come through having better theories and observations. Anyone who simply wants to prove one by trying to rule out the other only has an argument from ignorance. A theory, on the other hand, that makes testable predictions and is in concordance with the available evidence has a very powerful case. That's why it's unhelpful to talk of the disproof of dualism when the question is about the case for monism. Dualism doesn't really matter one way or the other!

We have had this conversation before and merely saying dualism is a possibility and $2 will get a cup of coffee; dualism requires what amounts to magic in our current understanding. Of course there could be some unknown that is currently undetectable, but why go there? Don't you think it is more productive to work from known physiological processes?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Kel, I understand your point better thanks. So for you it is a matter of empiricism and what can be empirically confirmed. I don't think this is the right way to approach the issue since for me this begs the question against our nonempirical, first-personal knowledge. But I won't argue this point further since my point here is to argue that merely appealing to correlations doesn't do much work against the dualist, and we agree on this. As an aside I'lI note that you invoke Popper, but note that he believed in interactionism and thought the mind was not itself a physical thing.

Eric, I don't think the point about principle is right. Go back and read Descartes' passage I gave you where he says that he has found correlations between the brain and mind. The dualist believes that merely establishing these correlations is not sufficient to explain the mind materially; so your suggestion that we will someday find these correlations doesn't really respond to this point. It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding of what the dualist actually claims and some people are attacking a straw man. I think it would help if we were clear about what the view is all I'm saying.

Go back and read Descartes’ passage I gave you where he says that he has found correlations between the brain and mind. The dualist believes that merely establishing these correlations is not sufficient to explain the mind materially; so your suggestion that we will someday find these correlations doesn’t really respond to this point. It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding of what the dualist actually claims and some people are attacking a straw man.

First this is not the 17th c. If dualism hasn't progressed beyond Decartes, then why are we even bothering?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

On the note of first-person experience, it's worth pointing out that we have no experiences of what makes for mental processes. Our minds, however we can ponder about The nature of thought, does not have the transparency of the cause of thought. However much we introspect, we simply don't have the visibility on what makes a thought, or a sense of self for that matter. So first person experience cannot give us much insight into what constitutes mind. Hence why we ought to look at the empirical.

As for Popper, quoting him on the nature of explanation doesn't mean accepting him on the nature of mind. His three-world hypothesis Isn't really anything that goes against the stance that brain is mind, just that the mental stuff is its own ontology. That can still be true while mind is still wholly a product of brain activity.

I want to comment on something. It has been written here that the brain is “an organ which is the result of a NON-rational process” (#12); that our minds are the products “of a NON-RATIONAL PROCESS (i.e. evolution)” (#17); and a proposed “‘a-rational rationality’, specifically, that ... rationality results from an organ resulting from a non-rational process”.

All this seems to be a lot of empty noise I think.

Louis C. Morelli commented on this in #29:

on what scientific facts are you based for affirming that the brain is the result of a non-rational process? ... We know that embryogenesis is rational, we can comprehend it.”

There is no rational reason to assume that evolution or its products (such as the brain) are non-rational. Some say that we don’t KNOW that evolution is a rational process, but the converse is true also: we don’t KNOW that it is not AND we don’t KNOW of a reason to think it not rational.

Perhaps we merely assume it is rational, but that is a justified assumption because it is both testable and useful. The opposite assumption (that evolution is non-rational) is neither testable nor useful; so it’s also worthless.

It seems no surprise that a rational process (evolution) could create a organ (the brain) which hosts a rational mind. We don’t know how that came about, but we are learning about it. Someday we likely will understand it.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Sean, isn't that Plantinga's EAAN and does anybody think his argument is worth the paper is it written on? His first premise is just pulled out of his ass and only becomes more sewer worthy from then on.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Michael, I think this gets the issue the wrong way around. In the 1600s Descartes says his theory allows there are correlations and this is consistent with his dualism. Indeed he thinks the correlations are something he's found himself! So what good is it today for people to speak as though the existence of correlations is an objection to his theory? That seems not to respond to the view that was offered.

Couchloc:

I don’t think this is the right way to approach the issue since for me this begs the question against our nonempirical, first-personal knowledge.

It doesn't beg the question. Science has room for 'non-empirical, first-personal knowledge.' Such knowledge can be used to formulate or propose hypotheses. What we reject to is people claiming intuition or revelation is evidence.

And we don't reject it as evidence out of some a priori resistance to the concept, we do so because it isn't reliable; it doesn't give answers to unknown questions better than the null hypothesis would predict. We do not premise that personal experience is to be discounted. We conclude after many uses of it that it is not very credible as evidence but even then, we don't dismiss it from science, we continue to use it for hypothesis-generation.

The dualist believes that merely establishing these correlations is not sufficient to explain the mind materially; so your suggestion that we will someday find these correlations doesn’t really respond to this point.

I don't see any way of defining 'sufficiency' that makes dualism as strong as materialism. Dualism is currently way behind in terms of empirical support. No matter where you set the bar in terms of justified belief, it will still be true that dualism is currently behind.

Besides which, a "not sufficient" response doesn't really refute my argument that they are making a soul-of-the-gaps claim, it supports it. Because 'not sufficient' is a god-of-the-gaps argument.

Indeed he thinks the correlations are something he’s found himself! So what good is it today for people to speak as though the existence of correlations is an objection to his theory?

Neuroscience and in fact medicine in general has advanced quite a bit since the 1600s. Geez, the guy even lived before we knew anything about electricity. You think it makes no difference to his argument that we can now predict what people are thinking about seconds before they think it by monitoring electrical activity and blood flow?

Look, I have to say I think Kel's point really nails this particular argument to the wall: if the last 300-400 years of discovery of how the brain works has no relevancy to dualism - doesn't support it or undermine it - then it's not a scientific theory at all. Its basically unfalsifiable.

Michael, assuming your #52 is directed towards me, I don’t think my # 51 even approximates Plantinga’s EAAN; which I find unpersuasive.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Scientists long thought the evidence they collected supported special creation and a global flood now they don't. What we are looking for is the best explanation given the data. Sure the data could support dualism, but I don't think it is currently the best explanation; it requires postulating objects and processes for which we have no evidence.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

Sean, I meant the argument you were arguing against - sorry if I left you confused.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

sean samis,

There is no rational reason to assume that evolution or its products (such as the brain) are non-rational. Some say that we don’t KNOW that evolution is a rational process, but the converse is true also: we don’t KNOW that it is not AND we don’t KNOW of a reason to think it not rational.

Actually, a non-ID evolution is clearly a non-rational process. I think you might be confusing "non-rational" with IRRATIONAL. In order for evolution to be a rational process, it would have to be responsive to reasons and reasoning. In order for it to rationally produce a rational process, it would have to be explicitly designing the processes with an eye towards that end goal: of producing a rational, truth-producing process. This would mean that it would have to select for truth-producing processes on the basis that they, in fact, produce truths. But evolution purportedly doesn't do that; it selects for survival utility, not truth-production, although truth-production can have survival value. But, as it turns out, evolution doesn't actually "select" for survival value either in the strictly scientific view: things change and develop, and then the environment "decides" if those developments work by simply having the things that don't work die out. There is no reasoning or anything like that involved. Accidents might even eliminate better adapted species.

So, since reasoning and reason is not a part of evolution, it's clearly a non-rational process. So the question, then, is if that sort of process can, in fact, produce rational processes.

eric,

Look, I have to say I think Kel’s point really nails this particular argument to the wall: if the last 300-400 years of discovery of how the brain works has no relevancy to dualism – doesn’t support it or undermine it – then it’s not a scientific theory at all. Its basically unfalsifiable.

Why are you insisting that either brain knowledge has to be the measure of dualistic theories, or else it can't be falsified? For the most part, what you're talking about are the correlations between brain activity and mental events. But all interactionist dualist theories say that yes, there will be such correlations. So finding more and teasing those out is not going to impact those theories; they expect them to be there and so accept them. This doesn't mean that there is no neurological evidence that can falsify the theories, or that even if there wasn't that there is NO evidence that can falsify the theories. So it's a rather weak argument to say that because the evidence that you really like doesn't actually falsify the theory that therefore the theory is not falsifiable; rather, it shows that you just don't understand the theory that you're criticizing.

You think it makes no difference to his argument that we can now predict what people are thinking about seconds before they think it by monitoring electrical activity and blood flow?

1) Actually, as it turns out, we CAN'T. I'm assuming you're referring to the Libet experiments? But those first of all only predicted it to something like a 60% accuracy -- which is not impressive -- AND only predicted the selection of a random decision, not a considered or deliberative one. I can predict with 100% what random number a computer will generate, typically, LONG before it does it because it turns out that computers, in general, DON'T really select random numbers; they used to, at least, base it on clock values. Given that, I can always get it right. And, as it turns out, humans don't really pick random numbers either. So basing it on random selections doesn't work.

2) It also can't be right because if we typically did that, we'd notice, because we act on some of our decisions immediately (like getting up to get a drink). If we typically made those seconds before recognizing it consciously, we'd be at the fridge before we had the conscious recognition that we wanted a drink.

3) You are trying to disprove dualism here in the worst way possible: by trying to demonstrate that conscious experience doesn't, in fact, determine our decisions. Thus, you build in epiphenomenalism into your theory, which means that we would essentially, act the way we act EVEN IF WE HAD NO CONSCIOUS EXPERIENCES AT ALL. That's a rather extraordinary claim, so as that's the implication of your interpretation of the experiences you need very much more extraordinary evidence than you're presenting here.

It doesn’t beg the question. Science has room for ‘non-empirical, first-personal knowledge.’ Such knowledge can be used to formulate or propose hypotheses. What we reject to is people claiming intuition or revelation is evidence.

1) Why is first-person experiences of my own mind not considered empirical data? All empirical data IS sense data which IS first-person experience. Introspection on my conscious experience, by that model, is just as "empirical" as anything else you can bring to the table.

2) Dualists rely on introspection to make their case, not intuition or revelation. Introspection is the examination of our conscious experiences, which are the only indications that we have a mind at all. If you want to exclude considering the details of those experiences, you're going to exclude mind completely. Good luck with that.

I don’t see any way of defining ‘sufficiency’ that makes dualism as strong as materialism. Dualism is currently way behind in terms of empirical support. No matter where you set the bar in terms of justified belief, it will still be true that dualism is currently behind.

I think this response will address Kel as well:

The issue here is that the given materialist theories do a terrible job of explaining the starting point of the mental, with is our actual experiences of mind. There are two major issues:

1) Current materialist theories have NO way to determine what it is about neurons -- if anything -- that makes them produce experiences of the sort we experience, and no way to determine if only neurons can do that or if, say, a computer could do it, too. Thus, they have no way to tell from the third-person view that they rely on what actually has experiences and what doesn't. The best they can do is rely on behavioural correlates ... that we determine starting from either our own mental experiences or assumptions about the experiences of others, and so are based on that first-person view that they are trying to ignore and leave out of the picture, and that we can't directly observe in anything but ourselves. Any materialism that wants to stick to the third-person view -- like Dennett explicitly says he wants -- is always going to have this issue.

2) There's always the issue of epiphenomenalism: the idea that if we could take out the experience part of the neurons -- whatever that is -- then all of the external behaviours would be the same but the internal experiences would be missing. This would mean that our mental deliberations play NO causal role at all, and Chalmers' zombies REALLY can exist. This is such a radical move that almost any other theory is better than that one.

Until materialism can actually meaningfully address ACTUAL EXPERIENCES OF MIND, it will be way behind. It's the equivalent of someone seeing that the stick bends in water and having some scientist say that sticks can't bend in water, but they have no evidence that it doesn't and have given no explanation for why we'd see it bend if it didn't. Sure, they might be right, but we're justified in accepting our own senses over their philosophical commitments until they demonstrate that they are.

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 25 Aug 2015 #permalink

This conversation is exactly the same one that the religious have about the Big Bang, or about evolution:

"Purely materialist X can't explain feature A, therefore we must postulate Φ".
"But how do you know it can't?"
"Because of my a priori, non-empirical argument."
"But what are the properties of Φ?"
"Umm...it produces feature A."
"So why not just presume that X causes A?"
"Because it can't due to my a priori, non-empirical argument about the necessary properties of X."

It's the same slight of hand, with emphasis on "slight". If we accepted this reasoning for every scientific conundrum, we'd presume that fairies were responsible for radioactive decay, and that angels determined which of the two slits a photon goes through.

It’s the equivalent of someone seeing that the stick bends in water and having some scientist say that sticks can’t bend in water, but they have no evidence that it doesn’t and have given no explanation for why we’d see it bend if it didn’t. Sure, they might be right, but we’re justified in accepting our own senses over their philosophical commitments until they demonstrate that they are.

This is indeed a perfect example. When we encounter an apparent failure of scientific explanation, we presume that science can eventually develop an explanation, rather than accept that materialism, which we use to explain the rest of the world, must be tossed out in this case. If we took your view of the mental, we'd say that there must be water sprites that use their special powers to bend the stick when it is in the water, and then unbend it when it is removed.

By Tulse (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Verbose Stoic (not verified)

VS:

. This doesn’t mean that there is no neurological evidence that can falsify the theories, or that even if there wasn’t that there is NO evidence that can falsify the theories.

Okay; what neurological evidence would falsify dualism?

The issue here is that the given materialist theories do a terrible job of explaining the starting point of the mental, with is our actual experiences of mind.

What is the dualist explanation for mental cognition? What does the soul do, how does it do it, and how can we test that?

"Until materialism can actually meaningfully address ACTUAL EXPERIENCES OF MIND, it will be way behind. "
Way behind what, exactly? Are there any dualistic theories of the mind that meaningfully address ACTUAL EXPERIENCES OF MIND? If so, how? Because it seems to me that if you posit there's something more to mind than brain activity, you're left with two problems - you're coming up with a whole new kind of thing you have to give an account of, at the same time as needing to explain how that new kind of thing fits with the ontology of what we know about reality through science.

"Current materialist theories have NO way to determine what it is about neurons — if anything — that makes them produce experiences of the sort we experience"
So what? I'm really not sure what's the problem here, other than to simply admit to our ignorance on the matter.

"There’s always the issue of epiphenomenalism: the idea that if we could take out the experience part of the neurons — whatever that is — then all of the external behaviours would be the same but the internal experiences would be missing."
You'd think that any materialist theory would eventually have to include internal experiences, lest they be subject to the epiphenomenalist reply. It's not like Chalmers can prove that zombies are physically possible, let alone that humans can be philosophical zombies.

I'd argue, besides, that materialism gives us an understanding of mind as it stands. Why do we thirst if not for biological drives? Why do we hunger? Why do we desire sex? Why do we find certain patterns appealing and others not? We can see the direct relation of our mental lives to survival and reproduction. So why would we need to go beyond the organism in order to account for the facts? That somehow the organism benefits from the consequence of the conscious experience of thirst, but that the conscious experience of thirst has no relation to the organism or the genes it helps propagate.

It seems a really anti-intellectual move to declare that material simply cannot account for the mental without knowing much about what the mental is. And that's the problem - we know the mental from our first-person experience, but our experience doesn't tell us in any way what makes for the mental. What is it about the first-person subjective that makes us confident it's not a function of brain - even as neuroscience keeps advancing in its understanding of how specific regions of brain correspond to our first-person experience? It seems odd that as more cases come in showing the link between mental events and physical that dualists declare that materialists are way behind. Just what do the dualists have? A priori arguments as to why some aspect of mind cannot be some aspect of matter. Nothing that explains anything, nothing that makes empirical predictions. Nothing that's testable in any way. In other words, an empty assertion.

Verbose Stoic @59

In order for evolution to be a rational process, it would have to be responsive to reasons and reasoning.

If that is what is meant by a “non-rational process” then there are no rational processes except reason. Natural processes don’t respond to reasons or reasoning.

“Rational” also means “comprehensible by reasoning” in which case natural processes ARE “rational processes”; this includes evolution.

Much of the rest of your comments on evolution are insignificant; it has yet to be shown that a rational process is required to create a rational mind. Except for religious purposes, the idea that a rational process is required invokes an infinite regress; and for no purpose. Evolution can do it accidentally.

So the question, then, is if that sort of process can, in fact, produce rational processes.

Exactly, and we don’t have enough evidence to finally settle the matter, but we do know there’s no evidence that weighs agains evolution.

We don’t know that reason came from evolution, but we don’t know any reason that it could not have, and we don’t know there are actual alternative processes to account for the brain or reason (as versus imaginary alternatives). But the idea that evolution is where our brain and reason come from is at least testable and useful; the alternatives are neither testable nor useful.

No one must disprove the alternatives, their proponents must prove their value or their truth.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

To Sean T #37:

“So SN, then we have reached agreement that there is no objective way, in general, to resolve theological dispute.”

No, we have reached no such agreement.

“The first, and most primary, theological question has tripped us up right from the get go to the point where you are just going to give up on the whole enterprise. That’s not resolving the dispute; that’s just refusing to discuss the dispute in the first place.”

No, there is no theological question tripping US up.
There is just an acknowledgement on my part that it is senseless to discuss theology with a person who refuses to believe the Theo even exists.

“The point is that I can think of no examples of religious conflicts being settled in any way other than enforcement of orthodoxy via either political or military power.”

You seem to be conflating resolution with enforcement.
They are not the same.
No one can be forced to believe, truly and voluntarily believe, anything.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

To sean samis #51:

“There is no rational reason to assume that evolution or its products (such as the brain) are non-rational.”

I didn’t say the brain was non-rational.
I said the alleged process of evolution is non-rational.
And I said that science has never observed non-rational things producing rational things, just as science has never observed non-living things producing living things.
But apparently, you’re more into theories and assumptions
then you are into empirical science.

“It seems no surprise that a RATIONAL process (EVOLUTION) could create a…”
…………….
Meriam-Webster defines RATIONAL as
: based on facts or reason and not on emotions or feelings.
: having the ability to reason or think about things clearly.
1a : having reason or understanding.
1b : relating to, based on, or agreeable to reason.
…………………

By See Noevo (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

Complete causal closure would do it.

So where do you think the magic happens in the brain? Where in the goo in our heads is there something non-material that can be observed objectively and empirically? Where is the gap between physical processes and our behaviour that requires a non-material casual explanation?

Mind is, then, essentially those qualities that I experience, and it takes strong evidence to demonstrate that I ought to abandon those experiences in favour of another theory

You're offering a description of mind, but not an explanation. There are no scientists who would argue we don't have experiences. The issue is what causes those experiences. Saying the mental is mental is not an explanation -- it's just restating the phenomenon.

The dualistic theories of mind that eric asserted are so far behind the materialistic ones. In general, they preserve mental causation

They simply assert mental causation, without any explanation of the "interface" between the mental and physical. (Pineal gland, perhaps?)

To be clear, I am very sympathetic to the notion that materialist theories of mind have huge problems accounting for the subjective aspects of experience. I think that hard problem of consciousness and qualia is indeed a hard problem, not one to be hand-waved away. I don't think we have a materialist solution to this issue, and because of the nature of the problem, namely, subjectivity, I don't even know if a solution involving only objectively observable entities is possible.

But with all that said, I think it is absurd to demand entirely separate ontological entities to explain this one feature of the universe when we have extreme confidence that our existing entities encapsulate the causality of everything else, and when there is no evidence that our objective science can demonstrate any casual incompleteness at the physical level from brain to behaviour. Without such causal incompleteness, subjective mental phenomena are at best epiphenomena, or perhaps a different aspect of the physical.

By Tulse (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

In reply to by See Noevo (not verified)

eric,

Okay; what neurological evidence would falsify dualism?

Complete causal closure would do it. I didn't promise that it would be EASY [grin].

But, mostly, you need to do more than point to correlations. Most of the sorts of evidence you need must include BOTH the experiential AND the neurological part. Evidence taken only from the neurology will ALWAYS be weak because there will always be doubt on what the actual experience is like.

What is the dualist explanation for mental cognition? What does the soul do, how does it do it, and how can we test that?

The dualist explanation of mind is the simplest one and the one we start with for any phenomena: I experience it, I examine my experience, and that's what mind is. Mind is, then, essentially those qualities that I experience, and it takes strong evidence to demonstrate that I ought to abandon those experiences in favour of another theory. Most materialist theories about mind end up forcing that choice.

Kel,

Way behind what, exactly?

The dualistic theories of mind that eric asserted are so far behind the materialistic ones. In general, they preserve mental causation and have no trouble explaining why mental events don't seem to be physical, and also can explain whether a sufficiently advanced computer has a mind (generally, no).

Because it seems to me that if you posit there’s something more to mind than brain activity, you’re left with two problems – you’re coming up with a whole new kind of thing you have to give an account of, at the same time as needing to explain how that new kind of thing fits with the ontology of what we know about reality through science.

I and all dualist theories pretty much start from the experience of the mental, and thus that's the mind. It might well turn out that the mind is just brain activity like the Evening Star is really Venus, but you insisting that I'm introducing a new ontology is like insisting that those who wanted to claim that the Evening Star was NOT Venus had the issue of introducing a new object. No, they were simply saying that it really looks like a star, not a planet, and had no reason to give that up until the science showed that it really WAS the planet Venus. Science isn't there yet for mind.

So what? I’m really not sure what’s the problem here, other than to simply admit to our ignorance on the matter.

If you tell me that conscious experience is nothing more than brain activity, but can't tell me if it is a product of brain activity or inherent to it, and can't tell me what it is about neurons that allows them to have or produce conscious experiences, and can't tell me why brain activity produces experiences the way it does, and can't tell me if only brains can do it or if a computer can do it, or if aliens with different brain structures can do it, then I think I have reason to suspect that you don't really have anything beyond correlations and so nothing like an explanation at all. In short, you claim to have a theory but, in actual fact, know nothing about the phenomena you claim to be explaining, and in fact leave it out an awful lot of the time.

(Note, for more details, the answer to the "So what?" is given right after [grin])

You’d think that any materialist theory would eventually have to include internal experiences, lest they be subject to the epiphenomenalist reply. It’s not like Chalmers can prove that zombies are physically possible, let alone that humans can be philosophical zombies.

My claim is that this is a consequence of the current materialist explanations which, if true, means that the materialists HAVE TO ACCEPT that they are physically possible. The most they can do is say that to do that you have to change something physically, so they can't be physically identical, but being behaviourally identical is enough to get you epiphenomenalism, and in general most materialist theories really have no way to escape that implication.

I’d argue, besides, that materialism gives us an understanding of mind as it stands. Why do we thirst if not for biological drives? Why do we hunger? Why do we desire sex? Why do we find certain patterns appealing and others not?

Why do we experience "thirst" at all, in the way that we do? Why do we experience "hunger" the way do we do? Why do we find sex "pleasurable" in the way that we do? Why do we feel the way we do when we find something appealing? What you're claiming is an explanation here is no deeper than "We experience thirst when we don't have enough water", which is not exactly deep, meaningful, interesting, or something that you need science or neurology to find. THAT I'm thirsty is not what we need explained, but rather "What is thirst and why is it what it is". Qualia-freak theories say that thirst just IS that experience, most materialist theories ditch qualia in favour of something else (either behaviour or brain activity) but at that point can't actually link back to the starting point.

It seems a really anti-intellectual move to declare that material simply cannot account for the mental without knowing much about what the mental is.

Dualists don't. They start from the experience of the mental through introspection, and point out how its qualities don't seem physical. If anything, it is the materialists who are anti-intellectual by your standards because they insist that no matter what insane conclusions arise from their theories and no matter how much they have to ditch those actual experiences and ignore what we think they are to make them work, we should take the materialist theory because, hey, it's materialist and physicalist, and so we don't have to do any ontological work.

What is it about the first-person subjective that makes us confident it’s not a function of brain – even as neuroscience keeps advancing in its understanding of how specific regions of brain correspond to our first-person experience?

Because the neuroscience has NEVER actually addressed ANY of the original qualities that made us think that the mental couldn't be physical: indivisible, not in space, etc, etc. While there may have been some decent PHILOSOPHICAL replies, the neurological replies have been studiously ignoring the details of our actual, first-person experience of mind for, well, pretty much forever. They haven't refuted NAGEL yet, and almost certainly won't, for example.

It seems odd that as more cases come in showing the link between mental events and physical that dualists declare that materialists are way behind.

We can do that because you keep focusing ON those links that were, in fact, NEVER reasons given for thinking that the mind is not physical AND that all interactionist dualist positions -- which Descartes was -- accept as a given. At the same time, you keep moving away from the first-person view which is our ONLY real evidence that mind exists and insist on a third-person view where the mind -- according to dualists and qualia-freaks -- doesn't even exist. Yeah, you aren't going to make any progress proving what everyone already agrees to and building your theory on evidence that doesn't directly link to the actual phenomena.

Just what do the dualists have? A priori arguments as to why some aspect of mind cannot be some aspect of matter. Nothing that explains anything, nothing that makes empirical predictions. Nothing that’s testable in any way. In other words, an empty assertion.

If science is a third-person discipline and thus its definition of testable means "From the third person", a very good argument against that requirement is that "You can't see the first-person view from the third-person view". Show me how to ACTUALLY do that, and then you might have a case. But, instead, materialists insist that experiences of mind are somehow not "empirical", and link mind to third-person things that they CAN study but when they're asked to link them to the first-person they, well, can't do it, for obvious reasons.

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

As usual VS spews thousands of words and says nothing of import. Like the true ID believer it consists of an empty argument that materialism can't do this or that, but never a single argument about how anti-materialism does anything. Why, because it either does everything or nothing and thereby has no explanatory power.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

There is just an acknowledgement on my part that it is senseless to discuss theology with a person who refuses to believe the Theo even exists.

We don't refuse so much as require independent evidence.
But yes, I would agree with your acknowledgement: your arguments are only convincing to believers.

Tulse,

This is indeed a perfect example. When we encounter an apparent failure of scientific explanation, we presume that science can eventually develop an explanation, rather than accept that materialism, which we use to explain the rest of the world, must be tossed out in this case. If we took your view of the mental, we’d say that there must be water sprites that use their special powers to bend the stick when it is in the water, and then unbend it when it is removed.

No, because my example relates to the argument that we simply take our experiences of the mind as they are until they are proven otherwise, and doing that leads to issues with materialist theories. So, relatively speaking, we're simply saying that the stick looks like it bends in water, so we'll assume that it does until we get sufficient evidence otherwise. For sticks in water, that's actually pretty easy to do, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to say that the stick bends in water when it really looks like it does and you don't have sufficient evidence to say that it really doesn't and that therefore the problem is with your eyes.

sean samis,

“Rational” also means “comprehensible by reasoning” in which case natural processes ARE “rational processes”; this includes evolution.

But since that's not the sense of rational that's being used in the argument, using that definition cannot be used to counter that argument. You agree that unless a process is a product of reasoning then it's non-rational, and that's the argument they're starting from. In fact, you concede that no natural process is rational, which is why they say that naturalism cannot produce rationality, so THAT far, you agree.

Much of the rest of your comments on evolution are insignificant; it has yet to be shown that a rational process is required to create a rational mind. Except for religious purposes, the idea that a rational process is required invokes an infinite regress; and for no purpose. Evolution can do it accidentally.

Which is indeed why I said the next statement you quoted: that the meat of the debate here has to be over whether something that is non-rational can produce something that can properly be called rational ... which is not as clear as you assert here. It also doesn't produce an infinite regress, as it only requires something that is rational by nature to start it off; so God or an intentional mind, for example.

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

my example relates to the argument that we simply take our experiences of the mind as they are until they are proven otherwise, and doing that leads to issues with materialist theories. So, relatively speaking, we’re simply saying that the stick looks like it bends in water, so we’ll assume that it does until we get sufficient evidence otherwise.

But we don't. We know a fair bit about sticks and the world that sticks are found in, and we know that our senses can be fooled quite easily. So when we take a straight stick and put it in the water, see it "bent", and then pull it out straight again, we don't think "gosh, I guess my overwhelming understanding about the physical nature of sticks and the rest of the world is wrong -- there must be supernatural forces that bend sticks in water and straighten them when they come out." In other words, in spite of the appearance, we don't abandon the explanatory scheme that has worked pretty damn well to explain everything else in the world, and start postulating stick-bending water fairies. Yes, the stick appears to bend, but even someone without any background in optics would be reasonably confident the phenomenon had a naturalistic explanation.

Ditto with mental phenomena. We can provide a pretty clear causal account for the world using purely materialistic principles. To argue that this one corner of the universe requires a complete rethinking of that seems rather preposterous. Yes, the problem is hard, no question, but just because it is hard does not mean we abandon materialism.

By Tulse (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

In reply to by Verbose Stoic (not verified)

Complete causal closure would do it. I didn’t promise that it would be EASY [grin].

Interesting. So do you think dualism provides complete causal closure, or do you think it does not fulfill your own criteria for a sufficient explanation?

[eric] What is the dualist explanation for mental cognition? What does the soul do, how does it do it, and how can we test that?

[VS] The dualist explanation of mind is the simplest one and the one we start with for any phenomena: I experience it, I examine my experience, and that’s what mind is. Mind is, then, essentially those qualities that I experience, and it takes strong evidence to demonstrate that I ought to abandon those experiences in favour of another theory. Most materialist theories about mind end up forcing that choice.

Saying 'mind is those qualities I experience' is not an explanation of how the phenomenon occurs. Its a description of what you propose to explain with your hypothesis, but its not the explanation. You haven't told me what the soul does, or how it does it, or how we can test your claims. You haven't told me how souls produces those qualities you experience. Care to try again?

I said the alleged process of evolution is non-rational.

And I said that science has never observed non-rational things producing rational things, just as science has never observed non-living things producing living things.

See, you are aware that evolutionary theories make no statements or predictions regarding non-rational things producing rational things or non-living things producing living things, aren't you? They only address changes in the genetic composition of populations of already living organism over generations.

Dualism fails for the same reasons that intelligent design fails - natural design is no way homologous and barely analogous - Paley tried a watch VS tries a computer - to human design; neither remotely resembles any living thing in basic structure. Trying to demonstrate an overarching intelligence through experience and science is a losing proposition; what we know today will be different tomorrow. If X today proves the existence of an intelligence, then when X is wrong tomorrow - what do you do? You deny the science or you deny intelligence? And we know that the latter will never happen, right? Until you know the mind of this God, then you've got nothing; you don't know whether this God could or did design a single thing. This is magic and magic is confined to fiction.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

Regarding:

I said that science has never observed non-rational things producing rational things, just as science has never observed non-living things producing living things.

Actually, those are assumptions on your part. If life is a product of abiogenesis and evolution (rational processes both), and if the brain and the mind are products of evolution, then we HAVE observed these things. We just don’t know YET that’s what’s going on. You don’t have to know what’s going on to see what’s going on.

But of course, your beliefs rely on ignorance. You believe that until otherwise proved, your position is the default. It ain’t. The default is “we don’t know yet.” Evolution and abiogenesis are the only options we can ever know, the others cannot be more than just suppositions.

But apparently, you’re more into theories and assumptions
then you are into empirical science.

Chuckle. All empirical science incorporates assumptions. But there’s no empirical evidence that excludes evolution as the cause of rationality. And there’s no empirical evidence that your alternative even exists, much less any empirical evidence it causes anything.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

"I and all dualist theories pretty much start from the experience of the mental"
Again, how does that help? the experience of the mental says nothing about what causes the mental - we simply don't have any visibility to the nature of how our minds work beyond what's immediately accessible. In other words, there are no mental observations that can exclude the idea that mental events are the product of neurological processes. Indeed, what we have from neuroscience is a correlation between events in the brain and mental processes, which should be prima facie evidence against the proposition that mental stuff cannot be physical stuff.

"THAT I’m thirsty is not what we need explained, but rather “What is thirst and why is it what it is”."
But the evolutionary account of thirst answers that to a large degree already. How does the dualist explain it? Where is this phenomenon located, how does it work, and how is it related to the survival of the organism? It's all very well to say that you simply can't see how subjectivity could arise from information processing, but it's another to actually put dualism to the test. Can you walk us through how the mental event of thirst works on a dualist model? Can you make any sort of testable predictions from it? Materialist theories are finding hormones and brain regions related to certain mental phenomena - if the mind were the brain, as materialism contends, then we should expect to find parts of the brain involved. What does dualism say? Anything testable? Anything that neurosciences can use to verify or refute dualism?

"Because the neuroscience has NEVER actually addressed ANY of the original qualities that made us think that the mental couldn’t be physical: indivisible, not in space, etc, etc."
So what of the loss of particular phenomenology inherent in many neurological disorders? What about the illusions generated based on a neurological understanding? What about the manipulation of conscious will through neurological stimulation and disruption? What about the predictive power of brain injury? What about experiments that alter fundamental aspects of our being such as manipulating our sense of causation? I know, not addressing the philosophical objections. Funny, though, that most philosophers of mind find the objections to dualism much more damning than monism, and that dualists outside of religious convictions are rare (Searle). But I suppose we can keep pretending that physics has overlooked a fundamental part of the human experience purely on one's first-person experience of mind. It just can't be that there's some sort of transformation involved in the brain that gives rise to first-person experience because some philosophers say so! Those damn physicists, if only they'd spend time looking at the human brain rather than banging subatomic particles into each other. Then they'd see the conservation of energy is a fraud. First-person experience tells us so!

There is a difference between saying "I don't know how the brain creates a first-person phenomenology" and saying "a brain is incapable of creating a first-person phenomenology". One is a recognition of the ignorance we are in, the other is an assertion about what brains cannot do well beyond what can be reasonably inferred from what we know about brains. The hard-problem of consciousness is hard, but to say it's impossible is both defeatist and dismissive of the current evidence in neuroscience that's very much indicating that the brain very much can create a first-person phenomenology. It's still a mystery as to how, agreed, but that's why neuroscientists are working on the problem. 300 years ago, it was a mystery now solar systems formed. 200 years ago, it was a mystery how species took their forms. 100 years ago, it was a mystery how genetic information was transferred. Mysteries are why we do science.

Replacing "I don't know" with magic is really not an improvement.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

Some of the push back against Verbose Stoic seems overly quick to me. Several people here seem to think that science pretty much supports a materialist explanation of consciousness. The evidence for this comes from such things as certain correlations neuroscience has discovered; from worries about "philosophical" or "apriori" arguments that are ineffectual; from concerns that you cannot rule out materialism by appeal to personal experience; etc. Since none of these forms of evidence are anything any self-respecting scientist or neuroscientist would ever accept, it seems we can dismiss the alternative approaches to the mind rather quickly. This would be a nice view to hold except it makes it rather difficult to make sense of the following pasages from Sam Harris--a neuroscientist:

"The problem is that no evidence for consciousness exists in the physical world. Physical events are simply mute as to whether it is “like something” to be what they are.....Absolutely nothing about a brain, when surveyed as a physical system, suggests that it is a locus of experience. Were we not already brimming with consciousness ourselves, we would find no evidence of it in the physical universe." [the irreducibility of consciousness]

"The idea that consciousness is identical to... unconscious physical events is, I would argue, impossible to properly conceive." [a claim about logical conceivability]

"It seems to me that....an analysis of purely physical processes will never yield a picture of consciousness." [an in principle impossibility claim notice]
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness

If someone can point out how these statements differ from Verbose Stoic's above, I'm listening. Rather than dismiss them I think we should try to understand why Harris wants to make these statements.

couchloc, Harris' claim is, at best, a defense of the "mysterian" position, which is that a) consciousness/subjectivity/qualia exist, but b) the physical world has no place for consciousness (the world is causally complete without it, and c) it isn't clear if materialism can ever explain it. And I completely agree with him on all three points.

But as I understand it, VB denies b), in that VB seems to claim that the mental, the subjective, has physical causal efficacy, that our account of the physical causal chain between brain and behaviour will always be incomplete -- that tracing the line from brain to behaviour will not be able to provide a full physical causal account. This is radically different from Harris, who is saying that the real problem is that our physics seems to be complete, and yet has no room for consciousness, rather than our physical account is incomplete and thus demands a physical causal role for consciousness.

By Tulse (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

In reply to by couchloc (not verified)

"The evidence for this comes from such things as certain correlations neuroscience has discovered"
Yes. For the contention that mind is a product of brain, observations that show there's a direct correlation between brain and mind (from neurochemicals, to brain injuries, to illusions created based on a neurological understanding), the evidence supports the contention that mind is a product of brain. This doesn't prove it beyond all doubt, but there are no certainties in this matter. What we say is that what we see is what we should expect if the mental was a function of brain activity. And each time there's an advance in neuroscience, the case for monism becomes stronger.

"from worries about “philosophical” or “apriori” arguments that are ineffectual;"
As it was explained, the issue with materialism is the assertion that matter cannot do a certain thing. And for that, you simply cannot reason a priori about it. You have to talk about what matter can or cannot do, and that involves understanding matter. Likewise, there are certain consequences of saying that something beyond matter is at play, such as the violation of the conservation of energy. Either way, the material is in play and thus we have to reference observation.

"from concerns that you cannot rule out materialism by appeal to personal experience; etc"
Again, this was explained. Personal experience of the mental doesn't include any personal experience about what the mental is. No matter how much you introspect, you cannot determine whether such thoughts are the products of synapses firing. Our mental lives, for better or worse, just don't have that visibility. If you wish to show otherwise, please do.

Sam Harris? Opinions on blogs? Who cares?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

Verbose Stoic @70

You agree that unless a process is a product of reasoning then it’s non-rational, ...

No, I don’t agree with that. I think that “rational” as you say it’s being used here is a valueless idea, and attempts to assert that which it needs to prove.

In fact, you concede that no natural process is rational, which is why they say that naturalism cannot produce rationality, ...

Since the term “rational” AS YOU USE IT is valueless, I don’t agree with anything derived from that concept. What “they say” cannot rescue that.

As I actually said; natural processes don’t respond to reasons or reasoning. There is nothing in that which leads to the conclusion that natural processes cannot produce rationality.

NO ONE HAS SHOWN A PROPERTY OF RATIONALISM OR A RATIONAL MIND WHICH IS SO EXTRAORDINARY THAT IT COULD NEVER BE NATURAL.

That is the MEAT of the Debate.

...so THAT far, you agree.

Good try, but no; I do not agree.

...the meat of the debate here has to be over whether something that is non-rational can produce something that can properly be called rational … which is not as clear as you assert here.

It is Crystal Clear that there is no evidence that natural processes cannot produce “something that can properly be called rational”. It is Crystal Clear that no impediment to a rational mind being produced by evolution is known.

It also doesn’t produce an infinite regress, as it only requires something that is rational by nature to start it off; so God or an intentional mind, for example.

If you invoke a religious concept (i.e.: God) then you escape infinite regress by abandoning empiricism.

If you invoke some other kind of “intentional mind” then you fall into the infinite regress.

Pick your poison.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

Every time someone quotes Sam Harris, I wonder just how it is Sam Harris got so popular. Has he said anything remotely relevant in the last 10 years? :/

To eric #69:

Me: “There is just an acknowledgement on my part that it is senseless to discuss theology with a person who refuses to believe the Theo even exists.”

You: “We don’t refuse so much as require independent evidence.”

But there IS independent evidence for a Theo. And certainly more than there is for either abiogenesis or common ancestry.
Yet you believe in the latter two.

Do you believe both in the existence of Aristotle and
in the accurate transmission of his words through the ages (e.g. his work titled “Politics”)?
If so, why?

By See Noevo (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

Regarding:

But there IS independent evidence for a Theo.

There is none. We’ve been down this road too many times; all the “evidence” is unsubstantiated claims by believers. There’s as much evidence of the Zeus as there is of the Christian deity; and not much for either.

Do you believe both in the existence of Aristotle and in the accurate transmission of his words through the ages (e.g. his work titled “Politics”)?

Aristotle probably existed, and probably did the things claimed about him because none of those claims is extraordinary. How accurately his words have been transmitted through the ages is uncertain; we know some works are lost. And in any event, only a fool would hang on the literal meaning of Aristotle’s words. Afterall, he was, like Socrates, just a man.

For extraordinary claims, extraordinary evidence is required.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

You: “We don’t refuse so much as require independent evidence.”

But there IS independent evidence for a Theo.

I think you don't understand what 'independent' means. It means, in part, evidence that is in principle accessible to other humans. IOW, evidence that exists outside your own head. So for example, someone regrowing their legs is independent evidence of faith healing, because other humans can (in principle) view it, poke the legs, see if they work, check to see if it's a stage magic trick, etc. However a personal revelation is not independent, since nobody can access it but you.

Do you believe both in the existence of Aristotle and in the accurate transmission of his words through the ages (e.g. his work titled “Politics”)?
If so, why?

I have no problem believing documentary sources about the existence of people doing things like 'writing books' because I can observe people writing books. As to whether we have an accurate transmission of his thoughts, I would have to go to the empirical evidence to ascertain that: how old are the writings we have? Are they suspected copies or suspected originals? On what basis do we make that judgment? Is authorship of these documents attributed to him or to people who read and repeated him? Etc.
However, if Aristotle's books were to claim he could resurrect people, I would not believe that claim based on the documentary assertion alone. Why not? Because I look around and don't see any human resurrecting other humans...while I *do* see lots of con artists and sham faith healers. Lot's of false miracle claims.

I think the big problem is that the evidence - such as it is - doesn't match up with any God postulated so far. If you are going to use evidence to test a hypothesis about the nature of a god, then you need to be willing to let the evidence make the decision. You can't ignore it or wave it away because it is inconvenient.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

You are the one asserting possibility, so it is your burden to demonstrate possibility by outlining a plausible mechanism

So possibility implies plausibility. What a dumb-head.

By Bayesian Bouff… (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015 #permalink

Kel,

I am trying to understand your view but there is something about it I don't understand. I appreciate the idea, but respectfully I'm not sure it will work. The suggestion you keep making is that when we are introspectively aware of our mental states we only have access to the states themselves (effect) but not access to what brings them about (cause). We cannot peer through our mental states to see what produces them. As a result, we cannot know that a physical state cannot be the cause. But the reply will be that we don't need knowledge of the cause to see the problem. All we need is to know that mental states have certain properties (phenomenal/subjective) that have no analogue in the physical world. For we can know about these effect-properties independent from knowing about their causes. (This is a general point. E.g., I can know the color of the words printed on my computer screen, without knowing what produce them from inside the computer). So I don't see why your point is so crucial. What is needed is to show, not that we are ignorant of the causes of our mental states, but that there is something in the states neuroscience refers to that could explain mental properties. So far no scientist has given a plausible account of what this is.

Second, your remarks above (@77) about physicists I will note are presumptuous. You criticize dualists for not listening to what physicists have to say about the world. But in fact there are many physicists who doubt that physics can explain the mind in physical terms. Shroedinger and Galileo are two examples. You might also see this clip by Edward Witten, physicist at Princeton University, who thinks physics may never explain consciousness. So I think you should be more cautious here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6b3DjOnv3I

What is needed is to show, not that we are ignorant of the causes of our mental states, but that there is something in the states neuroscience refers to that could explain mental properties. So far no scientist has given a plausible account of what this is.

The mental state of hunger is explained by a lack of certain compounds in your blood in the small capillaries in your hypothalamus. We know this because when that part of the brain malfunctions, that person can be made always hungry or never hungry (depending on the damage), no matter how obese or starved (respectively) they may be. Its very mundane when you think about it: the experience of hunger is how your brain interprets the 'not enough sugar' in your blood sugar detector, the hypothalamus (which AIUI also does other stuff, but it does that too).

The mental state of dizziness is another very mundane counter-example to your claim. Its explained by the rapid movement of fluid within three canals in the inner ear. Spin around on something, and you give that fluid momentum. Come to a sudden stop, and due to Newton's laws the fluid will keep circulating for a while, and you'll experience the mental state of dizzy.

I really do get a 'soul of the gaps' vibe about this whole conversation. Like you're going to tell me that sure, no dualist argues that those mental experiences are physical constructs, its only other mental experiences that couldn't possibly have a materialistic foundation. Its the eternal retreat of the unfalsifiable soul.

To be clear, I don't believe in dualism. That said:

The mental state of hunger is explained by a lack of certain compounds in your blood in the small capillaries in your hypothalamus

This isn't an explanation, it's an observed correlation. There are plenty of biological processes that aren't accompanied by subjective experiences, so more is needed to make this an "explanation" -- why do these particular processes produce subjective sensations, and more importantly, how.

For example, when you say:

the experience of hunger is how your brain interprets the ‘not enough sugar’ in your blood sugar detector, the hypothalamus

why can't one say that a car experiences hunger when the fuel level detector points towards "empty"? What is going on in the brain that produces a subjective experience of hunger in people but not cars?

By Tulse (not verified) on 27 Aug 2015 #permalink

In reply to by eric (not verified)

What would a physicist know about consciousness? Wouldn't one expect biology to explain it instead of physics? I don't buy that biologists aren't looking at individual experiences and using them as data. We have gone over chemical signaling before - why don't dualists read up on it and how it works. I am sure there is even a wiki article on it.

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 27 Aug 2015 #permalink

Tulse,

I am not a spiritual dualist either but I am sympathetic to certain forms of dualism like the ones Searle/Chalmers/etc. offer. Much of my point here has been that many of the criticisms people are making to spiritual forms of dualism miss the mark. The spiritual dualist that descends from Descartes (and I also think the classic Christian) does not deny that there are correlations between the mind and body. Descartes claims the mind is UNITED to the body during our corporeal existence. It is only once we die that the mind becomes separated and lives an independent existence in the afterlife. So I agree with you that the sort of evidence about neuroscience that reports correlations Eric is appealing to can be accepted by the dualist. This doesn't mean there aren't worthwhile objections to dualism that can be raised; but these have to be more carefully explained in my view. I think we need to understand the alternatives better or we will continue to go in circles with those we disagree with by attacking straw men.

eric,

I've been busy lately, but do still hope to get back to the other comments, but want to address this last one since you seem to think that most dualists will have to claim that those aren't really the sorts of subjective experiences that we're concerned about when, in reality, those are ones that fit well into dualist theories.

The mental state of hunger is explained by a lack of certain compounds in your blood in the small capillaries in your hypothalamus. We know this because when that part of the brain malfunctions, that person can be made always hungry or never hungry (depending on the damage), no matter how obese or starved (respectively) they may be. Its very mundane when you think about it: the experience of hunger is how your brain interprets the ‘not enough sugar’ in your blood sugar detector, the hypothalamus (which AIUI also does other stuff, but it does that too).

Instead of saying that that's what the experience of hunger is, what most dualists will say is that the hypothalamus detecting low-blood sugar CAUSES the experience of hunger. So, in the dualist conception, what happens is the blood sugar drops, the hypothalamus detects it, it fires off a "message" to the mind saying that that's the case, and the mind then generates the "hunger" sensation to record that. And there is evidence to suggest that something like this is the case. For example, have you ever gotten engaged in a book or a game or a movie or a conversation and kept going right through a meal time, for example? Clearly, your blood sugar level was low, and low enough to at least generally generate hunger -- you would have felt hungry after not eating for that amount of time if you weren't engaged -- and so as far as I know the hypothalamus should still fire. And yet, the experience isn't generated. This suggests a causal relation as opposed to an identity relation.

This also explains what happens when that area is damaged. You damage the detector so that it either sends the signal all the time, or else it NEVER sends the signal. Since the mind is relying on that detector to tell it when the blood sugar level is low, it always reacts as if that signal was telling it something accurate, and so produces or doesn't produce the experience based on that. But that doesn't mean, again, that the experience of hunger just IS that signal, and we have good reasons to think that it might not be.

The same thing applies to dizziness. The experience of dizziness happens when you have a conflict between two inputs that the mind uses to generate subjective experiences: your vision, and your inner ear fluid. The inner ear fluid says "Moving" and the vision says "Not moving". Trying to display both or use both to generate the image leads to the experience of dizziness. But as both of these are causal, not identity, and are about causes that SHOULD be in the brain under interactionist dualism, there's no contradiction there. The same thing can be said for the effects of drugs or alcohol.

PERSONALITY changes are harder, because personality is supposed to be something in the mind, not in the brain in and of itself. But as emotions seem to be formed from brain-oriented interpretations of the state of the world, anything that can be assigned to that is not an issue, and you also have to eliminate anything based on automatic or learned responses or restrictions -- because anything automatic isn't actually conscious -- and so we're left with deliberative actions alone, and there aren't that many cases of that, as far as I've seen,

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 28 Aug 2015 #permalink

PERSONALITY changes are harder, because personality is supposed to be something in the mind, not in the brain in and of itself.

There is evidence, however, that physical changes to the the brain can effect drastic changes in personality (the classic example is that of Phineas Gage). I find it unlikely that this is the result of the brain constantly sending the signal "I've had a tamping bar blown through my left frontal lobe", and the mind producing the experience "I'm a different person now".

"So, in the dualist conception, what happens is the blood sugar drops, the hypothalamus detects it, it fires off a “message” to the mind saying that that’s the case, and the mind then generates the “hunger” sensation to record that."
Sounds very materialistic to me.

"And there is evidence to suggest that something like this is the case."
Material evidence.
So I don't see how this makes a case for dualism. You haven't explained anything that can't be explained on materialism.

I've given my solution to the consciousness problem before here, so here I go again:

Consciousness is like the operating system of a computer, say Windows, for example. It receives information/stimuli, passes on that information to internal processes which it does not monitor, receives results back from those processes, and transmits the results to an external environment or to other internal processes. It perceives the external and internal stimuli as "sensations", such as the scent of a rose.

The scent of a rose is the result of the interaction of our nervous system and other organs to the chemicals which make up a rose's scent, consisting of a well-understood biological process. The only missing element is why the sensation exists in our consciousness - why a rose smells like a rose. One could also ask, why is there quantum mechanics? Why do electrons obey the Pauli Exclusion Principle? The answer in all three cases, to my personal satisfaction if nobody else's, is, that is a materialistic property of this universe, part of the way this universe works. If a brain and nervous system could not perceive and interpret sensations, such as scents and pain and hunger, then evolution would have had to find some other means to produce some form what we call intelligence.

In other words, we do not need dualism, a separate magical mind, we just need one additional item in our list of materialistic rules of this universes: different causes produce different sensations which can be felt. The process of evolution categorizing sensations as good, bad, or indifferent, I leave to the student.

It is fairly clear, in principle although not in practice, that a computer can be programmed to do anything than a human does (considering as I do that world chess-championship and Jeopardy championship and passing IQ tests in unknown languages given a dictionary of that language are convincing examples). A computer gets external stimuli from keyboards and mice and internal stimuli by calculation results appearing in memory buffers. Does it consider these different stimuli as different sensations? Why not?

the trusting or not trusting, the building of detectors, running multiple experiments, sharing papers, checking “mistakes”, etc. – are all things you PERCEIVE with your mind.

Well I’m not a solipsist and I’m fine with a non-scientific belief that I don’t live in the matrix, so I don’t think of other people’s agreements and disagreements with me are figments of my imagination or the trick of some mad programmer. Other people’s convergence and nonconvergence of opinion with mine I accept as real.

Hell, I am a solipsist, as well as a philosophical nihilist – that is, ontology has been tossed overboard. Nothing much changes, although whinging about "figments of my imagination" is illustrative.

Barry Arrington, the dumbest lawyer in America not named Matt Staver, Orly Taitz, or Larry Klayman.

By colnago80 (not verified) on 30 Aug 2015 #permalink

eric,

Interesting. So do you think dualism provides complete causal closure, or do you think it does not fulfill your own criteria for a sufficient explanation?

You asked for what neurological evidence would disprove dualism. The brain being completely causally closed would do it, as that would leave no room for any external causation to matter. I fail to see why this seems to have confused you.

Saying ‘mind is those qualities I experience’ is not an explanation of how the phenomenon occurs. Its a description of what you propose to explain with your hypothesis, but its not the explanation. You haven’t told me what the soul does, or how it does it, or how we can test your claims. You haven’t told me how souls produces those qualities you experience. Care to try again?

Again, you misunderstand the details of the theories and what they have to deal with. Dualistic theories have at least a theory that explains phenomenal experiences, by positing a thing that exists that produces them and whose job it is to produce those. Thus, under that theory, what we have to do for phenomenal experiences is study them in detail as presented, just as we would with any other phenomena, which will get us the answers to the other questions as well. The materialist theories, on the other hand, posit that phenomenal experiences are the RESULT of other mechanisms that don't necessarily produce phenomenal experiences (for example, not all neural activations produce experiences). So it needs to explain where the experiences come from because, given that theory, it's just as easy to leave them out as include them. So until materialist theories can explain why we'd get experiences from those mechanisms it isn't really making a link to them, and so isn't taking them seriously. Dualist theories, on the other hand, answer "That's what the mind does".

Tulse,

You’re offering a description of mind, but not an explanation. There are no scientists who would argue we don’t have experiences. The issue is what causes those experiences. Saying the mental is mental is not an explanation — it’s just restating the phenomenon.

If your theory would cause me to have to deny the qualities of the experiences I possess, which are the only reason to think that I have a mind at all, then I'm justified in being skeptical of it until you can demonstrate that the experiences are being misleading. And until then, I DEFINITELY have cause to prefer a theory that is consistent with my experience because it says that mind is a thing that just does that.

They simply assert mental causation, without any explanation of the “interface” between the mental and physical. (Pineal gland, perhaps?)

Well, see, one of the things we need to preserve IS mental causation: the idea that mental events can, as mental events themselves, cause other events and then physical actions. There IS an issue for substance dualist theories on how a non-material substance can cause something in a material substance, but that's surely not much more of an issue than what materialists face. If we could demonstrate that the mental has causation and cannot be material, then we'd simply assume that there WAS a mechanism to do that, even from the scientific standpoint. So I don't see why materialists in this comment thread can get away with "We'll figure out how it all works eventually" but dualists can't.

But with all that said, I think it is absurd to demand entirely separate ontological entities to explain this one feature of the universe when we have extreme confidence that our existing entities encapsulate the causality of everything else, and when there is no evidence that our objective science can demonstrate any casual incompleteness at the physical level from brain to behaviour. Without such causal incompleteness, subjective mental phenomena are at best epiphenomena, or perhaps a different aspect of the physical.

Well, epiphenomenalism is a BIG problem for materialist theories; if they have to accept that, they're in big, big trouble. So, given that, we're going to have to accept that no matter what mind turns out to be, it's going to be something rather different from everything else. The actions and experiences of a conscious agent are RADICALLY different from things that aren't conscious. It's likely to turn out to be at LEAST as special as Quantum Mechanics. Given that, it having some kind of radical difference is to be expected, and note that the substance dualist arguments are indeed based on pointing out that the properties it has are ones that we don't think physical, and in fact violate the properties that we at least used to think DEFINED the physical. Given that, it's not unreasonable to suggest that a non-material substance is required here, and answers of "But everything ELSE is material!" ring a bit hollow when coupled with an inability or even refusal to show how those experiences can be reconciled with the properties we assign to physical objects.

(About the best way is to appeal to "physical" not having as strict a definition as we once thought, but this does not help non-dualist materialists, as it STILL doesn't get you directly from brain to mind).

Yes, the stick appears to bend, but even someone without any background in optics would be reasonably confident the phenomenon had a naturalistic explanation.

You've jumped to "natural vs supernatural" when my example wasn't about that. It was about whether or not we should think the stick bends until we can show that it doesn't. It turns out that we can do that easily, but we are warranted in trusting our senses if we don't have any real reason to doubt them other than "That seems odd". There are a LOT of odd things in the world [grin].

In the case of mind, the move to "non-material" is based on an interpretation of what our experiences suggest and what it means for something to be physical. Again, we're justified in thinking that our experiences are accurate until you can show that they aren't beyond making a philosophical commitment to naturalism.

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

Kel,

Again, how does that help? the experience of the mental says nothing about what causes the mental – we simply don’t have any visibility to the nature of how our minds work beyond what’s immediately accessible. In other words, there are no mental observations that can exclude the idea that mental events are the product of neurological processes.

I'm not claiming that it DOES exclude it completely. I AM saying that if the neurological process theory contradicts the experiences, then it has a lot of explaining to do before it can be considered a CREDIBLE theory, let alone THE theory. Dualist theories don't have that issue because they start FROM experience and so have a hard time contradicting it.

But the evolutionary account of thirst answers that to a large degree already.

How? What does it explain beyond "We have an experience when we don't have enough water in our system", which we didn't need evolution to tell us anyway?

Where is this phenomenon located, how does it work, and how is it related to the survival of the organism?

Why is "survival of the organism" even a relevant point to figure out subjective experiences, which, I contend, is WHAT MIND IS?

It’s all very well to say that you simply can’t see how subjectivity could arise from information processing, but it’s another to actually put dualism to the test. Can you walk us through how the mental event of thirst works on a dualist model? Can you make any sort of testable predictions from it? Materialist theories are finding hormones and brain regions related to certain mental phenomena – if the mind were the brain, as materialism contends, then we should expect to find parts of the brain involved. What does dualism say? Anything testable? Anything that neurosciences can use to verify or refute dualism?

All you do here is reduce mind to third-person correlates and then demand that theories that insist that mind is critically first-person prove it from the third-person view. Most if your questions here are irrelevant to someone who doesn't think mind can be properly studied from the third-person point of view -- because it doesn't really exist there -- and thus that it can't really be done scientifically. For example, why do you think that dualism will be proven or disproven neurologically? Other than complete causal closure, interactionist dualism and materialism are identical to that point. The walkthrough of thirst at the physical side will be identical. The main point of contention is whether or not that feeling of thirst plays a direct causal role in deciding to get a drink of water, and what produces that sensation. So not being able to see how you can get that experience from information processing is indeed a BIG deal, because if your theory works just as well if those experiences aren't there then you have a big gaping gap in trying to explain why they ARE there.

So what of the loss of particular phenomenology inherent in many neurological disorders? What about the illusions generated based on a neurological understanding? What about the manipulation of conscious will through neurological stimulation and disruption? What about the predictive power of brain injury? What about experiments that alter fundamental aspects of our being such as manipulating our sense of causation? I know, not addressing the philosophical objections. Funny, though, that most philosophers of mind find the objections to dualism much more damning than monism, and that dualists outside of religious convictions are rare (Searle).

Interactionist dualists accept and have always accepted that manipulating the brain will manipulate the mind, and vice versa. So most of those aren't issues at all. And for some of the rest we only have access to external behaviours, and so don't know if the internal experience itself is altered. So these AREN'T big problems for interactionist dualist theories, which is why I ignore them. If you have specific examples, feel free to bring them up.

But I suppose we can keep pretending that physics has overlooked a fundamental part of the human experience purely on one’s first-person experience of mind. It just can’t be that there’s some sort of transformation involved in the brain that gives rise to first-person experience because some philosophers say so! Those damn physicists, if only they’d spend time looking at the human brain rather than banging subatomic particles into each other. Then they’d see the conservation of energy is a fraud. First-person experience tells us so!

Two things:

1) I have no idea where most of this is coming from; it's certainly not a reference to anything I'VE been saying.

2) Science can quite easily miss the first-person perspective because it is explicit about working from the third-person perspective. Most of the time, that's not even not a problem but is the right way to go. It starts to look a little shady when what you're trying to explain is critically first-person, and mind, being ITSELF the first-person perspective, is critically first-person.

There is a difference between saying “I don’t know how the brain creates a first-person phenomenology” and saying “a brain is incapable of creating a first-person phenomenology”. One is a recognition of the ignorance we are in, the other is an assertion about what brains cannot do well beyond what can be reasonably inferred from what we know about brains.

The thing is, you don't know that brains CAN actually do it. So, again, unless you have some idea of whether they can or not it is not unjustified to doubt that they can, and to not accept materialist theories of mind as being THE theories of mind until they get there, or rather until they actually manage to prove that they ARE the better theories outside of philosophical precommitments.

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

seam samis,

No, I don’t agree with that. I think that “rational” as you say it’s being used here is a valueless idea, and attempts to assert that which it needs to prove.

You agree that that is how they are using the term, and agree that if their argument worked that it would establish that. Anything else really is quibbling over phrasing. The key thing is that you don't get to refute their argument by inserting your definition into it in place of their actual argument, as that's equivocation. You are free, however, to argue that the argument doesn't work, for example by saying that it asserts what it needs to prove, or by saying that they haven't established that rational mechanisms can't be produced by non-rational ones.

If you invoke a religious concept (i.e.: God) then you escape infinite regress by abandoning empiricism.

If you invoke some other kind of “intentional mind” then you fall into the infinite regress.

Pick your poison.

You avoid the infinite regress by grounding it in something that has rationality as a natural and necessary property, ie by grounding it in something that just IS rational and doesn't need anything to make it so. Under the God example, that's God. Under non-religious examples, that would be a rational and intentional mind, that must be rational and intentional or else they aren't a mind. Trying to ground it in non-rational things leaves the gap of, well, how does the non-rational process produce a rational process? Some of this can be worked out, but there are issues that you ignore.

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

Verbose Stoic @104

You avoid the infinite regress by grounding it in something that has rationality as a natural and necessary property, ie by grounding it in something that just IS rational and doesn’t need anything to make it so. Under the God example, that’s God. Under non-religious examples, that would be a rational and intentional mind, that must be rational and intentional or else they aren’t a mind.

Unfortunately for you, there is NOTHING KNOWN that fits that description. You cannot “ground” an argument on an unknown.

It appears to me that your effort is to prove that rational minds are necessarily the product of your deity (“God”) or some other hypothetical “rational and intentional mind”. But since it is the existence of these things you are trying to demonstrate, you cannot ground an argument for their existence ON THEIR EXISTENCE.

You cannot “ground” something in the very thing you are trying to prove. You cannot “ground” an argument on God in order to prove God. You cannot “ground” an argument on some other “rational and intentional mind” in order to prove that “rational and intentional mind” exists.

If you “ground” your argument on God, then you abandon empiricism.
If you “ground” your argument on a “rational and intentional mind” then you fall into the infinite regress.

Trying to ground it in non-rational things leaves the gap of, well, how does the non-rational process produce a rational process? Some of this can be worked out, but there are issues that you ignore.

This is not a “gap” but just an as-yet-unknown.
The whole point of empiricism is to investigate the as-yet-unknown.

And since no one has demonstrated that rational processes cannot be produced by non-rational processes, there’s no reason not to look at the as-yet-unknown.

We don’t know how rational minds came to be by natural processes, but we know there’s no reason to declare it impossible. To avoid the infinite regress, the search for how our rational minds came about by purely natural processes IS THE ONLY EMPIRICAL OPTION.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 31 Aug 2015 #permalink

Why is “survival of the organism” even a relevant point to figure out subjective experiences, which, I contend, is WHAT MIND IS?

If you accept that the perceived world is the (unconscious) mind, I fail to see what the problem is. Are you laboring under the illusion of the constancy of the personality?

Where were you before you were born? What's the use of ontology?

VS:

Dualistic theories have at least a theory that explains phenomenal experiences, by positing a thing that exists that produces them and whose job it is to produce those

You have yet to say what that theory is. How does the soul produce consciousness? What does it do and how does it do it? There seems to be nothing here but handwaving. Saying the soul or the immaterial mind produces consciousness because 'that's just what it does' is not a mechanism. It's not an explanation.

Again, we’re justified in thinking that our experiences are accurate until you can show that they aren’t beyond making a philosophical commitment to naturalism

I think we have quite a lot of evidence supporting the conclusion that intuitive human 'experiences' related to belief in souls are not accurate. All the failed mediums (both sincere and con artists), all the failed OBE experiments. All the failed attempts to detect a soul. The ability to observe brain activity and predict from that what people think. This is data which undermines dualism. It doesn't definitively disproved it - because science can never do that - but it does give us inductive evidence that all past testable hypotheses about souls or immaterial minds were wrong.

trying to ground it in non-rational things leaves the gap of, well, how does the non-rational process produce a rational process?

The notion that consciousness is a result of evolution of brains has that gap, but the notion that consciousness is a result of intelligent immaterial agents also lacks the same "how" explanation, as well as any empirical evidence of such immaterial agents.

VS:

in the dualist conception, what happens is the blood sugar drops, the hypothalamus detects it, it fires off a “message” to the mind saying that that’s the case, and the mind then generates the “hunger” sensation to record that.

As Mnb says, there is nothing non-materialistic in this description.

If this is what dualists think happens and dualists think minds are immaterial things, then it should be easy for them to demonstrate their hypothesis. Empirically observe neural signaling and identify a signal coming from the mind - i.e., one that doesn't have a prior material cause.

Go forth and find evidence for your hypothesis, then. We'll wait.

eric,

You have yet to say what that theory is.

The theory is that there is a specific thing that produces subjective experience. It may not be material and we may not be able to get any access to it from a third-person perspective. To find out more about it, we have to take the first-person perspective very seriously and as our fundamental starting point. That we can't answer all the questions yet doesn't strike us any harder than it does at your theory, except that your theory leaves out the actual phenomena that we need explained, while mine doesn't. Which is the argument I've been making the entire thread, and that you've been sidestepping the entire thread.

I think we have quite a lot of evidence supporting the conclusion that intuitive human ‘experiences’ related to belief in souls are not accurate. All the failed mediums (both sincere and con artists), all the failed OBE experiments. All the failed attempts to detect a soul. The ability to observe brain activity and predict from that what people think. This is data which undermines dualism. It doesn’t definitively disproved it – because science can never do that – but it does give us inductive evidence that all past testable hypotheses about souls or immaterial minds were wrong.

But we AREN'T talking about "intuitions". We're talking about THE EXPERIENCES THEMSELVES. And your "inductive evidence" is merely noting that things that would absolutely prove that we have a mind separate from brain at least haven't been verified yet (there are a LOT of problems with ALL of the experiments you cite). That's not enough to show that it isn't true ... which, recall, was your argument the whole time, that we have good reason to think it isn't true. My counter is that you have no such reasons because you don't understand what the relevant arguments actually say.

As Mnb says, there is nothing non-materialistic in this description.

There's not supposed to be. YOU asserted that this is what "thirst" really was. _I_ pointed out that it clearly isn't, and that you are forced to a causal model, and a causal model is, in fact, perfectly compatible with interactionist dualism. What it isn't compatible with is the "neural identity" model, which is what you seem to be advocating. ANY causal model will be compatible with dualism until you can show that the brain is causally closed.

If this is what dualists think happens and dualists think minds are immaterial things, then it should be easy for them to demonstrate their hypothesis.

Of course, that ISN'T what makes them think minds are immaterial things, but why let that stop you?

Empirically observe neural signaling and identify a signal coming from the mind – i.e., one that doesn’t have a prior material cause.

Go forth and find evidence for your hypothesis, then. We’ll wait.

So, WE are expected to go out and demonstrate this in order to show that materialist theories leave out subjective experience and/or are epiphenomenal and so aren't good explanations for subjective experiences, even though you can't even point to where in the brain subjective experiences are created, which would be the place that dualists would look FOR that signalling mechanism and signal? So, YOU have no burden of proof at all, but WE do, and so if WE can't prove our theory YOU can assume that YOURS should be preferred? How is that reasonable?

By Verbose Stoic (not verified) on 01 Sep 2015 #permalink

"The theory is that there is a specific thing that produces subjective experience. It may not be material and we may not be able to get any access to it from a third-person perspective."

What falsifiable predictions derive from the theory that "that there is a specific thing that produces subjective experience, whcih may not be material and may not be accessible from a third-person perspective"?

If it isn't falsifiable, it isn't a theory.

?

The theory is that there is a specific thing that produces subjective experience.

Do philosophers seriously consider that a viable theory? I think its nothing but a bald assertion. There is no detail. No explanatory power. Its not general, it is exactly as narrow as the one phenomena it purports to explain, and it makes no testable claims (though your earlier comment did).

ANY causal model will be compatible with dualism until you can show that the brain is causally closed.

So if I understand you correctly, dualism makes no testable predictions that differ from non-dualist materialism. Is that correct?

So, WE are expected to go out and demonstrate this in order to show that materialist theories leave out subjective experience and/or are epiphenomenal and so aren’t good explanations for subjective experiences, even though you can’t even point to where in the brain subjective experiences are created, which would be the place that dualists would look FOR that signalling mechanism and signal?

You are indeed responsible for going out and collecting evidence in support of your hypothesis. Materialists are too, but they are actually doing it, while dualists aren't. When a scientist says "let me test whether this mental state can be predicted or is related to that measured brain activity," they're going out and demonstrating (or at least, 'collecting evidence that supports the idea') that brains produce mental activity.

Moreover you're essentially using a creationist fallacy here, that of the contrived dualism. Citing lack of evidence for some other theory does not provide evidence for yours. Only actual evidence for yours does that. You will never convince any scientist of dualism by trying to infer "therefore dualism" from "your own theory is not well supported."

The theory is that there is a specific thing that produces subjective experience.

Do philosophers seriously consider that a viable theory?

Aside from "pineal gland" and "G-d," not especially. Then again, mind–brain dualism has further baggage, such as the need to assume ontologically real plural minds.

^ Which of course leaves the obvious question where they are. There's a Cosmic Mind right around the corner.

I wish the author of the blog would explain further on his position: "there is copious evidence that they do and zero evidence that anything non-physical is involved"

you mean zero physical evidence that non physical is involved seems like a better way of putting it. Plus the organic correlate of our mental processes are unknown. I am curious to know what I am missing on the "copious" evidence phrase.

you mean zero physical evidence that non physical is involved seems like a better way of putting it.

No, those are different points. Your point is correct (there is zero credible empirical evidence for nonphysical souls), but it is also true that scientists have collected a lot of evidence that supports the hypothesis that mental processes arise from brain activity.

Plus the organic correlate of our mental processes are unknown. I am curious to know what I am missing on the “copious” evidence phrase.

This survey/meeting review article may be a good place to start. Lots of references for you there.

Plus the organic correlate of our mental processes are unknown. I am curious to know what I am missing on the “copious” evidence phrase.

I am curious to know what I am missing about the "our" evidence word.